Duke of Windsor's relaunch as friend of the industrial worker collapses under weight of its own absurdity

The former British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald died at sea one month into a three month holiday to South America. He was only 71 but he had already been showing signs of premature senility for over a year. He had stepped down from political office in May at the same time as Stanley Baldwin had stepped down as Prime Minister. Macdonald’s death closed finally two chapters in British political history. He had led the Labour Party into power twice, including its first ever government. He had, though, broken with most of the Party in 1931 to form a National Government to apply what we would now call austerity policies to tackle the Great Slump. It remains an open question as to whether more reflationary policies would have been any more successful. Neville Chamberlain’s government was still “National” in name but in practice it was Conservative.

The Duke of Windsor’s attempt to relaunch himself as a public figure collapsed in abject failure when he cancelled plans for a tour of America in the face of protests from organised labour. The tour was to have been organised by his recent friend Charles Bedaux, who owned the Chateau de Candé where had married in May. Bedaux’s system of time and motion study was widely used in the US and was regarded as the successor to the much-hated discipline of Taylorism as a brutal tool to regiment the labour force. Coupled with the Duke’s recent visit to Germany as the guest of Robert Ley, head of the Reich Labour Front the Nazi umbrella organisation for industrial workers, this rather undermined the Duke’s claims to be undertaking a neutral investigation of labour conditions in the US.

Italy was accepted as a signatory of the Anti-Comintern Pact together with Germany and Japan. The move had little practical but enormous symbolic significance; any form of serious engagement between Fascist Italy and the Soviet Union would have been highly improbable but its alignment with Berlin and Tokyo marked the practical end of British dreams that somehow the two Fascist powers could be manipulated into mutual hostility. The collaboration between Italy and Germany was cemented in new anti-Semitic initiatives. Under the cloak of opposing British colonialism in Palestine the Italian radio station in Bari broadcast pro-Arab propaganda into the region. Josef Goebbels opened an exhibition entitled “The Wandering Jew” in Munich and part of the launch programme was a theatrical show featuring anti-Semitic quotations from Luther, Goethe and Bismarck together with an abridged version of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”.


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