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Better the great adventure, better the great attempt for England's sake, better defeat, disaster. . . -- Oswald Mosley
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The Observer

London, Sunday August 17, 2003


Offensive charm

Diana Mosley was a fascist and an anti-Semite. But our obsequious culture still tolerates her

by David Aaronovitch
The Observer

If the word 'culture' famously had Goering reaching for the handle of his revolver, then the word 'charming' does the same for me. A person can be dishonest, amoral and corrupt, but as long as he or she is 'charming' then you are entitled to like, and in some way forgive, them.

Lady Diana Mosley, who died last week, was invariably described by her visitors as 'charming', as well as being 'witty' and 'intelligent'. These attributes were regarded as an entertaining paradox in the wife and chief supporter of Britain's very own would-be Führer, Sir Oswald Mosley. Her only slightly qualified admiration for Hitler (great man, shame about the anti-semitism and the tendency towards violence) was partly offset by her also being one of the fabulous Mitford sisters, and the friend of many a poet, artist and novelist.

The indulgence shown towards her is itself revealing. Her autobiography, A Life of Contrasts, was first published in 1977. Leaving aside the 'We lunched with Violet Trefusis in Cannes' type demi-Bloomsbury bilge, which makes up the bulk of the book, there are also some of her reflections on that great puzzle: how could someone as essentially wonderful as Hitler, leader of such a civilised nation, preside over the attempt to wipe out an entire race of people?

Diana's answer, broadly, was that it was the Jews' own fault. What had happened was that, due to pogroms in other less-enlightened East European countries,

'thousands of Jews poured into Germany from the East, and made an acute Jewish problem there'

(Diana did not go into detail about what this problem was. Was it overcrowding? Cooking smells? Klezmer music replacing Wagner? A proliferation of beards?) '...nothing much was done, either by the League of Nations or by world Jewry, and they were left to their fate.'

The Jews went to Germany, the other Jews did nothing, the Jews met their fate. Not that the Germans wanted bad things to happen. No, most of them, 'probably hoped that (the Jews) would remove themselves to some other part of the globe. World Jewry with its immense wealth could find the money...' This was, after all, just part of a natural process of separating warring ethnicities, in which (thought Diana)

'the losing group should have been offered rich inducements to move to its own mother country. Those who refused would do so with their eyes open. The same should have been done for the Jews'.

But it wasn't, partly (though she doesn't mention it) because there wasn't any such place for Jews (though, interestingly, in her book Diana manages at least three or four digs at Israel). Meanwhile, by belly-aching about such things as the Nuremberg Race Laws, their co-religionists being made to scrub pavements, or occasionally being murdered by storm-troopers, 'the Jews who left did not make things easier for those left behind'.

Even so (she argues), anti-semitism per se was not something that she or Sir Oswald was attracted to. Far from it. In fact, they would have been content for there to be lots of Jewish members of the British Union of Fascists, if only the Jews hadn't (misguidedly) attacked the BUF first. No, the Mosleys were much more interested in their great intellectual plans first for the Empire and then Europe, and for the new corporate Britain. Racism was a little vulgar.


Trevor Grundy was the son of BUF members (including a virulently anti-semitic mother who, in the classic manner, turned out herself to be Jewish). In his fascinating Memoir of a Fascist Childhood, he recalls that anti-semitism and racism were central both to the BUF and to its postwar successor, the Union Movement. When Mosley returned to politics in the late 1940s it was to the sound of the chant, 'The yids, the yids, we've got to get rid of the yids'. Members saluted each other with code letters 'PJ', standing for Perish Judah.

Grundy became active in the Mosleyite youth movement, and went to see The Leader in Le Temple de la Gloire, the Mosleys' house in Paris. He contrasted how the poor old foot-soldiers of British fascism were treated, compared with the collaborating glitterati who wrote for Diana's semi-fascist intellectual rag, the European. One lot stood and were not fed or paid, while the others were fêted and dined. At one meeting he told Lady Diana that people in Britain did not have enough paraffin for their oil heaters. She turned her 'large, cow-like eyes' on him and asked: 'What is an oil heater?'

Lady Diana was a hostess who read Schiller, Goethe and Nietzsche in German and Sartre and Aragon in French. In her book all her acquaintances are fabulous, being 'amusing and high-spirited' (Waugh), 'witty, intelligent, sarcastic' (Goebbels), or capable of 'imitations of marvellous drollery, which showed how acutely observant he was' (Hitler).

She charmed Augustus John, adored Lytton Strachey, commiserated with Carrington, and her aristocratic friends patronised Mosley's fascist January Club. Lady Ravensdale, the Prince of Wales's aide-de-camp 'Fruity' Metcalf, the Count and Countess of Munster, Sir Charles Petrie. Lord Lloyd of Dolobran, Lord Erroll (later to be murdered in Kenya and who wore the fascist symbol on his sporran), Lord Erskine, Lord Scott, the brother of the Duke of Buccleuch, all attended.

What they had in common, these people, was a fashionable contempt for democracy, associating it with dullness, inertia and the bourgeois. Mosley, said Diana, was the only man with the dynamism, the intellect, 'the force' (whatever that was) to push aside 'the deadweight of the Baldwinites on the Right', the Macdonaldites in the Centre and the Attlee Labour Party on the Left. Her favourite words of her husband's were from a passage beginning: 'Better the great adventure, better the great attempt for England's sake, better defeat, disaster...' And so on. There are plenty out there today, writing or speaking, who seem to have a similar preference for the impatient gesture over the daily, grubby struggle of democratic politics.

Diana described her husband as a man of generosity, lacking in the 'cant' of democratic politicians. Beatrice Webb thought he was a cynic. In the 1959 general election and following the race riots in Notting Hill, Mosley stood for Parliament. Trevor Grundy went to most of the Movement meetings. At one he describes The Leader 'shouting and ranting and raving' that West Indian men captured English girls, locked them in flats and then repeatedly raped them. Then Mosley quipped: 'Lassie for dogs, Kitekat for wogs.' You will not find this episode recorded in A Life of Contrasts. Too much of a contrast, I daresay.

I do not find Diana Mosley 'charming'. Her book is both evasive and rather stupid. Had she not been a member of the aristocracy and rather beautiful, no writers would have patronised her drawing-room, and no silly journalists would have been seduced by her 'charm'. But then that's the trouble with our obsequious cultural relationship to the titled and the blue-blooded - the admiration is all one-way.

Diana's leftist sister, Jessica, thought that Diana might just have led the Führer astray too, with her suggestion of noble support for his cause in Britain. 'Hitler got it all wrong,' she said later. 'He thought that automatically anyone who was Lord somebody must be very important. He didn't get the point of it all.'

And some of us still don't.


David Irving: A Radical's Diary
[Death of Lady Mosley] Daily Telegraph and other obituaries
Diana Mosley - The last bright young thing
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