By John Newsinger
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2903

Time and again, Labour fails the Westminster Test

Why Britain's richest aren't afraid of Keir Starmer
Issue 2903
Who owns Britain? How the rich kept hold of land

The late 6th Duke of Westminster who owned half of London (Pic: Wikimedia Commons/Philip Allfrey)

A good way to assess the political impact of the Labour Party over the 100 years since it first took office back in 1924 is the Westminster Test. It asks, to what extent has British Labourism inconvenienced the successive dukes of Westminster?

The dukes are descended from the Norman invaders who pillaged England in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings that took place nearly 1,000 years ago.

William Gilbert was one of king William I’s favourites and was installed as the Earl of Chester after the conquest. When he wasn’t eating and drinking, he was hunting. Indeed, he was known as the Gros Veneur, the Fat Huntsman. This led to the name that the family has today—Grosvenor.

The family has maintained its wealth and position within the ruling class ever since. In 1874 queen Victoria declared Hugh Grosvenor the first duke of Westminster.

What of the man who was duke when the first Labour government took office in 1924? He was another Hugh Grosvenor, succeeding to the title in 1900, and was one of the richest men in the world. He owned much of London, as well as a collection of boats and trains, and a fleet of Rolls Royces.

The duke was a staunch imperialist. Bendor, as he was known to his friends, had a ten‑year relationship with the French fashion designer, Coco Chanel, with whom he shared his fascist sympathies and violent antisemitic prejudices.

Chanel collaborated with the Nazis during the German occupation of France, working for the Sicherheitsdienst—the Nazi secret police under the code name “Westminster”. At the end of the war she was arrested as a collaborator but was mysteriously released, according to some accounts, after Winston Churchill’s personal intervention.

But what of the duke of Westminster? He was fervently pro-Nazi throughout the 1930s and strongly opposed to Britain going to war in 1939, not least for fear of the damage bombing would do to his property interests in London. Predictably, he blamed the war on the Jews. He was one of a group of openly pro-Nazi peers sitting in the House of Lords.

None of them were interned during the war. They were too important, although they were pressured into keeping their heads down. The duke’s wealth ­survived the 1945-51 Labour ­government intact. The rich certainly hated Labour’s welfare measures and the NHS, but their loot was left untouched. When the duke died in 1953, he left a fortune valued at some £60 million (over £2 billion today) on which the family had to pay over £19 million in inheritance tax.

Which brings us to today. The sixth duke of Westminster, Gerald Grosvenor, died in August 2016. His wife, Natalia, was descended from the old Russian royal family, the Romanovs.

As for Gerald himself, he was perhaps best known for his use and abuse of sex workers, famously settling bills with his pimps with cheques for £50,000. He left a fortune estimated at more than £9 ­billion. Incredibly, the family paid less inheritance tax than it had in 1953—nothing at all.

The seventh duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor, a close friend of prince William, became a multi-billionaire at the age of 25. He was well ready for the life, having celebrated his 21st birthday with a party for 800 guests that cost a mere £5 million.

One thing we can be ­confident of is that he does not feel the slightest bit threatened, nor even slightly worried by the prospect of a Keir Starmer government. We can look forward to his forthcoming marriage in June with the royal family all in attendance and however many millions these celebrations will cost.

And this is after six Labour prime ministers and a total of 33 years in office.

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