Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One chief, said yesterday that he preferred totalitarian regimes to democracies and praised Adolf Hitler for his ability to “get things done”.
In an outspoken interview with The Times, the 78-year-old billionaire chastised contemporary politicians for their weakness and extolled the virtues of strong leadership.
Mr Ecclestone said: “In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done.
“In the end he got lost, so he wasn’t a very good dictator because either he had all these things and knew what was going on and insisted, or he just went along with it . . . so either way he wasn’t a dictator.” He also rounded on democracy, claiming that “it hasn’t done a lot of good for many countries — including this one [Britain]”.
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Instead, Mr Ecclestone endorsed the concept of a government based on tyranny.
“Politicians are too worried about elections,” he said. “We did a terrible thing when we supported the idea of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He was the only one who could control that country. It was the same [with the Taleban]. We move into countries and we have no idea of the culture. The Americans probably thought Bosnia was a town in Miami. There are people starving in Africa and we sit back and do nothing but we get involved in things we should leave alone.”
Mr Ecclestone, who plunged the Blair Government into a row about donations in 1997 after it emerged that he had given the party £1 million, has a reputation for being outspoken. Last month he said that Formula One needed a “black, Jewish woman who, if possible, wins some races”.
In 2008 he provoked uproar when he suggested racist comments directed at Lewis Hamilton on websites in the build-up to the Brazilian Grand Prix “started as just a joke”. However, he told The Times yesterday that he was deeply concerned when he saw fans “blacking up” to mock Hamilton, an act he described as racist.
However, his latest comments could prove deeply damaging.
Claiming he likes “strong leaders”, such as Margaret Thatcher, Mr Ecclestone suggested that Max Mosley, his close friend, the president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), would make a good Prime Minister.
Mr Mosley, the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, was recently accused by Formula One racing teams of being a “dictator”.
Mr Ecclestone said: “I prefer strong leaders. Margaret Thatcher made decisions on the run and got the job done. She was the one who built this country up slowly. We’ve let it go down again. All these guys, Gordon and Tony, are trying to please everybody all the time.
“Max would do a super job. He’s a good leader with people. I don’t think his background would be a problem.”
Mr Ecclestone’s remarks last night drew a strong reaction from Jewish groups and politicians.
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews said: “Mr Ecclestone’s comments regarding Hitler, female, black and Jewish racing drivers, and dictatorships are quite bizarre. He says [in the interview], ‘Politics is not for me’, and we are inclined to agree.”
Stephen Pollard, Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, said: “Mr Ecclestone is either an idiot or morally repulsive. Either he has no idea how stupid and offensive his views are or he does and deserves to be held in contempt by all decent people.”
Denis MacShane, the Labour MP and chairman of the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism, and chairman of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism, condemned Mr Ecclestone’s decision to align himself to a “growing” anti-democracy movement.
“Of course democracy and the politicians are imperfect and full of fault,” he said.
“But this fashionable contempt for the right of people to elect their own leaders is frankly frightening.
“If Mr Ecclestone seriously thinks Hitler had to be persuaded to kill six million Jews, invade every European country and bomb London then he knows neither history and shows a complete lack of judgment.”
John Whittingdale, the Tory chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said: “These are extraordinary views and I’m appalled that anybody could hold them.”