It’s hard to see why Bernie Ecclestone chose to give an interview to The Times, which appears today under the headlines ‘Hitler? He got things done, says Ecclestone’ as a news story on Page 3, and, on pages 34 and 35, ‘Despots are underrated, says the supreme leader of Formula One.’
My hunch is that after the recent carve up which led to Max Mosley’s sidelining from the sport’s governing body, Ecclestone was looking to say one or two nice things about Mosley, and steady the Formula One ship.
Instead, he comes over as an eccentric with somewhat dangerous views. You get the flavour from the headlines above.
He says that Max Mosley would make a good Prime Minister. Mmm, I doubt it. And how’s this for thought through political philosophy, on the subject of the NHS. ‘I’d get rid of it.’ He says something similar about democracy.
He criticises the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying Saddam and the Taleban should have been left well alone, but criticises lack of action to deal with poverty in Africa, on which, as it happens, this government has a better record than most.
It reads less like the leader of a successful global sporting brand than the ruminations of the famous Private Eye cabbie. ‘The benefits culture is completely mad. I would get rid of it.’ (no explanation as to how. Perhaps he is waiting for PM Max to tell us.) ‘There are plenty of jobs for people if they want to do them. These people (not clear whether this means all benefit recipients) are scroungers.’ Of his part ownership of Queen’s Park Rangers …’ we’ve always got the wrong players and the wrong manager.’ Now there speaks the cabbie, not the billionaire bankroller of the club.
But it is the majorly revisionist view of Hitler that takes the views from eccentric to alarming. He gives the impression that Hitler was led astray, possibly against his will, in trying to wipe out all Jews. He seems to criticise him not for what he did, but for the fact that he was not a proper dictator.
Unlike me and Max, seems to be the sub-text.
I have never been a motor sports fan. But you cannot take away from Ecclestone the fact that he turned Formula One into a genuine British and global success story. I’ve long thought that he is one of those whose donation to a political party, and the controversy attached to it, has stopped him from getting the kind of honour and recognition that otherwise would be his.
But it’s hard to honour someone who says the kind of thing that appears from his mouth this morning and, like I say, hard to work out why he wanted to see it in print.
Of course it may be that some bits have been taken out of context, or given more prominence than others, but there do appear to be quotation marks around the statements that most readers are likely to find offensive to greater or lesser degrees.
I’d love to know if he thinks the interview came out as planned, though I note the final quote of the main interview reads like this… ‘I am not a great planner. Even last week I had no idea what I would be doing today. You need to play things as they are.’