Max's finest hour and other stories
NOVEMBER 6, 1997
BY JOE SAWARD
Tony Blair should have known better. The British Prime Minister had done everything right: his landslide election victory in May had demolished a dithering and divided Conservative Party and created a strong Labour government; the raving left wing Labour lunatics had stayed locked up in a cupboard at Labour Party headquarters while Blair and cohorts hijacked Conservative policies, giving the impression that the new government was talking sense; his honeymoon with the British people and the governments of Europe had floated merrily along, Blair skillfully matching the mood of the moment at every turn; his government had approval ratings which even African dictators could not manufacture; Britain was booming; Britain was cool.
And then Saint Tony ran into Max Mosley...
Even the name should have sent him spinning for cover. There are strands of DNA in the Mosley genes which seem to produce brilliant politicians. Max's father was a great political player in his day. He must have been to be able to convince people he was a serious contender, despite jumping from one party to another.
If you look back in history you will find that two major political players in the 1920s jumped parties: Winston Churchill went from the Liberals to the Conservatives and Sir Oswald Mosley went from the Conservatives to Labour. Within a few years of his leap Sir Oswald was serving in a Labour government.
In 1931, however, frustrated by the Labour government's unwillingness to listen to his economic theories, he jumped ship again and tried to establish the New Party with the help of William Morris - who had made a fortune building Morris and MG cars. This failed to get off the ground and a year later Mosley set up the British Union of Fascists, apparently believing that it was the only system that would prevent chaos and stop the rise of Communism.
Fascism is, of course, a dirty word these days but at the time many professionals and establishment figures agreed with Mosley. In Italy Benito Mussolini had restored Italian national pride and was putting the people back to work; Adolf Hitler was starting to do the same in Germany and in Spain the country was being driven to extremes which would lead to the Civil War between General Francisco Franco's Fascists and the Communists and in France there were three or four different fascist movements, notably Jacques Doriot's Parti Populaire Francais.
For a couple of years Mosley's BUF was very successful, collecting 40,000 members but, as Hitler and Mussolini veered off into extremism, so too did Mosley. Violence at a meeting at Olympia in 1934 turned many away from the party and later Mosley's marches into the East End of London, designed to provoke the Jewish communities, reduced the membership of his movement to just 5,000. When war broke out in 1939 Mosley was a spent force. He was interned, his name forever linked with fascist excess.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica places him thus in history: "In spite of Mosley's undeniable rhetorical and intellectual gifts the British masses resisted him" although it concludes that he was "perhaps the most intelligent and rational of all fascist leaders".
Max Mosley was brought up surrounded by great political figures. Although his father was discredited he still knew all the right people. It is a little-known fact that Max appears in Sir Winston Churchill's History of the Second World War, in the second volume entitled "Their Finest Hour".
The Battle of Britain was over but in December 1940 London was being bombarded by the Luftwaffe. Churchill was rather busy but he managed to find the time to ask the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison what the British Government was doing to ensure that Max saw enough of his mother...
No, this is not another Globetrotter fantasy. This is the truth. It is often rather stranger than fiction. At the time Lady Diana Mosley was in jail and Churchill was worried that the Lady Di of the 1930s was not being given enough access to her eight-month old baby boy.
It was probably inevitable that Max wanted to be in parliament. He studied at Oxford and became the Secretary of Union Society - a job held by many political high-fliers over the years, but he could go no further. His name was electoral poison.
Eventually Max decided to make his living (and have fun) in motor racing and gradually he found that, allied to Bernie Ecclestone, he could play politics inside the sport. He manoeuvred his way gradually to the presidency of the FIA. The automotive world learned that it was not wise to take on Mosley. Once he was in charge at the FIA Max began to turn his guns on the politicians - if only to prove to himself and to the world that given the chance he could have battled with the best of them. It goes without saying that Max was in his element.
Blair should have seen it coming. In recent years the FIA has used Grand Prix racing as a bludgeon. Governments do not generally take sporting bodies very seriously but one by one the countries of Europe have been whipped into kowtowing to the FIA. Mosley humbled the Italians over the Italian Grand Prix - they even gave him a medal; the Germans were battered into agreeing to allow tobacco advertising at the Luxembourg Grand Prix. The French were forced to compromise several times - but have yet to give in completely. The British gave way at the first push and in falling they took the whole of Europe down with them...
The FIA Tobacco War of 1997 - which we expected to last for months - was over in just a matter of days. It will stand as one of Max Mosley's masterpieces.
Britain's acceptance that Formula 1 cannot be included in any Pan-European tobacco ban makes an enormous lot of sense. This is the line the Labour Party is using to defend the climbdown. There are, it argues, political realities and one cannot fight against them just to make a grand gesture.
Logically they are quite right, but politically the tobacco business has been a disaster for Blair and his left wing luvvies. Max has sent the Labour Party reeling because it has long been the champion of such socially-acceptable causes such as the banning of tobacco advertising. It was a popular policy with Britain's politically-correct chattering classes and there is little doubt that it gained Labour votes.
"Smoking," said the Labour manifesto, "is the greatest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK. We will therefore ban tobacco advertising."
Such a move would have been a catastrophe for Formula 1 not only because of the tobacco money which keeps the motor racing industry afloat but also because Britain's vote against tobacco advertising in Europe would have swung the balance in the European Union in favor of a Pan-European ban.
Mosley said that the FIA was not willing to accept that and at the Grand Prix of Europe warned the governments that this would not be a good idea. Grand Prix racing was willing to pull out of Europe and simply beam the tobacco advertising into the EU on the television.
Mosley said he was not threatening, merely stating what would happen. I must say it looked like threatening behavior to me. Mind you, Max is no stranger to that. Back in 1962, when the FIA President was just a law student, he had first-hand experience with the workings of the British legal system when he was arrested after a fracas in Ridley Road, Dalston and appeared at Old Street Magistrates Court charged with threatening behavior. He was cleared of all charges because he explained that he had been defending his father against rowdy opponents!
The threats - driven home to Blair at a meeting with Bernie Ecclestone on October 18 - caused the Labour Government to cave in. There are 50,000 people employed by the motor racing industry in Britain and if tobacco money was pulled out thousands of jobs would have to go. Millions of pounds of tax revenue comes from the nearly billion pound motor racing industry. Formula 1 is also a flagship for British technology. These are potent arguments.
And so the Labour politicians dropped the pretence and announced that it would only support a Pan-European tobacco ban if F1 was excluded from the deal.
In a few short days Mosley has outflanked all the governments of Europe and beaten them into retreat, down a route he has provided for them. F1 racing will police itself over tobacco. You may not agree with smoking, you may even believe that a tobacco ban is justifiable, but Mosley argued that there is no reason why governments should be allowed to get away with such anti-democratic behavior. Max has punished them for trying. As the Labour ministers have fallen back their critics are hammering them from all sides. If motor racing should be excluded from a ban, why not darts? Why not snooker? Why is tobacco advertising banned in the publishing industry? The politicians are in a pickle...
For Mosley the satisfaction will not come from having demolished the entire European tobacco advertising ban, but rather from giving Saint Tony a good political kicking on the way. Max's Dad would be proud of him. He has taken on real politicians and he has run rings around them...
For those who love motor racing Mosley should be saluted. He has forced the governments to accept that banning tobacco advertising is a flawed principle. Tobacco is not the only way to fund the sport - but there is no reason why it should be stopped from doing so. If campaigners do not like it, they will have to fight for a ban on the sale of tobacco.
Now all Mosley has to do is figure out how to get the Conservative Party to telephone him and ask him to sort out its problems...