It took the British ruling class years to accept that the Astor family, into which David Cameron has married, were true aristocrats. They were American immigrants, doubly damned because they had made their fortune in “trade”. The Astors soothed suspicions by entertaining in style at Cliveden, their Italianate mansion on the edge of the Chilterns. In the 1930s, Waldorf Astor, the second viscount, and his wife, Nancy, increased their prestige by making their home the social centre for the pro-appeasement wing of the Conservative party.
David Astor, a great editor of this newspaper, could not abide the portrayal of his parents as Hitler’s stooges by the left of his day. Less partial observers did not deny that Nazi sympathisers were always welcome guests. Hatred of war, antisemitism and, above all, fear of communism drove the Astors on. They saw Nazism as a bulwark against a Bolshevism that might one day rob them of their wealth. Although the British Communist party was a tiny force, they believed Britain should not fight Germany for fear of bringing on revolution. A Tory from Churchill’s camp encapsulated the Astors’ paranoid delusions, when he cut them with the magnificent put-down: “I see you are prepared to put the supposed interests of your adopted class before the real interests of your adopted country.”
Cliveden is now a hotel. The British upper class welcomes wealthy foreigners with greedy gusto. To cap it all, the barefaced producers of The King’s Speech whitewash the history of aristocratic appeasement by pretending that George VI and the late Queen Mother were supporters of Churchill and opponents of bowing to Hitler’s demands rather than the other way round. Nothing of the prewar atmosphere remains except the paranoia.
Carry on reading