A £50million portrait of hypocrisy: How Corbyn’s aide’s family sold a Picasso and got £1.3m home

When it comes to showing loyalty to the Labour leader and all that he stands for, Laura Murray has got it down to a tee.

She is on social media backing striking university lecturers, protesting against the bombing of Syria and calling for a free Palestine.

Holiday snaps show her posing by a statue of Lenin and a banner bearing the hammer and sickle, symbol of the Soviet Union.

And since actually landing a job in Labour head office — she was made a £40,000-a-year political advisor to the Shadow Cabinet in 2016 — there have been plenty of opportunities to pose alongside Jeremy Corbyn himself.

Laura Murray, 30, is the daughter of one of Jeremy Corbyn's most senior aides - Andrew Murray. After her mother died in 2007 she sold an inherited Picasso painting for £50million and ended up with a £1.3million home in North London

Laura Murray, 30, is the daughter of one of Jeremy Corbyn's most senior aides - Andrew Murray. After her mother died in 2007 she sold an inherited Picasso painting for £50million and ended up with a £1.3million home in North London

Laura Murray, 30, is the daughter of one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most senior aides – Andrew Murray. After her mother died in 2007 she sold an inherited Picasso painting for £50million and ended up with a £1.3million home in North London

In another photo, taken in the Houses of Parliament, she smiles as she shows off a necklace adorned with the words ‘F*** the Tories’. Meanwhile on Facebook, the self-proclaimed socialist states: ‘Please no bourgeoisie on my profile.’

All well and good in theory. But in practice, how do those beliefs sit with someone whose blue-blooded family recently sold one of the country’s best-loved paintings for £50million?

Because The Daily Mail has pieced together the extraordinary story that links Ms Murray to one of Picasso’s most celebrated works. Painted in 1901, Child with a Dove was described by Arts Council England as ‘probably the most famous work by Picasso in a UK collection’. For almost four decades from 1974 it was on public display in the National Gallery. But in 2012 it was put up for sale, prompting an outcry from the art world.

Attempts to find a British buyer failed and in 2013 it emerged it had been sold for £50million, making it one of the most expensive sales in art history. The buyers? Super-rich Qataris.

Painted in 1901, Child with a Dove was described by Arts Council England as ‘probably the most famous work by Picasso in a UK collection’

Painted in 1901, Child with a Dove was described by Arts Council England as ‘probably the most famous work by Picasso in a UK collection’

Painted in 1901, Child with a Dove was described by Arts Council England as ‘probably the most famous work by Picasso in a UK collection’

Self-proclaimed socialist, Laura Murray smiles as she shows off a necklace adorned with the words ‘F*** the Tories’

Self-proclaimed socialist, Laura Murray smiles as she shows off a necklace adorned with the words ‘F*** the Tories’

Self-proclaimed socialist, Laura Murray smiles as she shows off a necklace adorned with the words ‘F*** the Tories’

Ever since, the precise identity of the vendors has remained a mystery. But not any more. The painting was in fact sold by 30-year-old Ms Murray’s mother, Professor Susan Michie. She and her two siblings had been left the picture by their mother, the celebrated IVF pioneer Dame Anne McLaren.

When she died in 2007 she left an estate valued at £52,105,910. The vast bulk of that sum represented the value of the painting.

In her will, the Mail can reveal, she stated that if her children chose to sell then ‘if possible it should be sold to an art gallery or museum in the United Kingdom’.

According to a source, family members were ‘disappointed’ at the decision to put the painting on the market. While the sale attracted a tax bill of £20million, that would have left the trio about £10million each — more than enough to share around other members of their extended family.

Months after the painting was sold, Ms Murray was registered as the owner of the family’s £1.3million five-bed home in North London. It had previously been owned by her mother. At almost exactly the same time her older sister purchased a property for £1.2million nearby, albeit with a mortgage.

Four years earlier her brother had become the owner of a £450,000 flat attached to the family home, apparently a gift from his mother.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with a parent giving family members a leg up the property ladder.

As Ms Murray once observed on Twitter: ‘Yes, privilege is handed down through generations in wealthy families. That’s why I think society should radically change by increasing taxes on the rich, reducing inequality, empowering workers and increasing opportunities for all.’

That the media spotlight has fallen on Ms Murray follows her secondment to Labour’s National Complaints Team — a particularly sensitive role that includes dealing with anti-Semitism claims.

Months after the painting was sold, Ms Murray was registered as the owner of the family’s £1.3million five-bed home in North London. It had previously been owned by her mother. At almost exactly the same time her older sister purchased a property for £1.2million nearby, albeit with a mortgage

Months after the painting was sold, Ms Murray was registered as the owner of the family’s £1.3million five-bed home in North London. It had previously been owned by her mother. At almost exactly the same time her older sister purchased a property for £1.2million nearby, albeit with a mortgage

Months after the painting was sold, Ms Murray was registered as the owner of the family’s £1.3million five-bed home in North London. It had previously been owned by her mother. At almost exactly the same time her older sister purchased a property for £1.2million nearby, albeit with a mortgage

Ten days ago leaked emails showed she had apparently blocked the suspension of a member who had defended an anti-semitic mural. Further controversy ensued when Ms Murray was drawn into a row with Countdown star Rachel Riley.

Ms Murray temporarily deleted her Twitter feed after describing Riley, who has campaigned against anti-Semitism, as ‘dangerous’ and ‘stupid’. Riley, who is Jewish, is now pursuing a libel claim after Ms Murray wrongly claimed that she had said Mr Corbyn deserved to be violently attacked.

Not that the young activist’s involvement with the Labour Party had gone entirely unnoticed before these incidents. Hardly likely, given that her father is 60-year-old Andrew Murray, one of Mr Corbyn’s most senior aides.

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Having joined the Communist Party at 18, the author and Morning Star journalist worked his way up the union movement, becoming Unite chief of staff before being seconded to Labour in 2017 as a one-day-a-week consultant.

It was through the hard-Left Stop the War Coalition, formed in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, that he forged strong links to Mr Corbyn.

He has been an outspoken apologist for the Soviet Union — once suggesting brutal dictator Joseph Stalin had been unfairly maligned — and expressing ‘solidarity’ with North Korea, the most repressive dictatorship on Earth.

He is believed to have had a hand in writing the Communist Party’s 2011 edition of Britain’s Road To Socialism, which explains how a ‘revolutionary transformation’ might be achieved and ‘what a socialist and communist society in Britain might look like’.

That includes nationalising ‘all major sectors’ of industry and commerce, and bringing landed estates, luxury tourist establishments and ‘second homes’ under ‘public ownership’. Unlike the brutal regimes he apparently admires, his upbringing could not have been more privileged. Mr Murray is the son of stockbroker Peter Drummond-Murray — note the now-missing barrel from the double-barrelled surname — a descendant of the Earl of Perth who was a senior figure in Scottish heraldry circles where he held the title Slains Pursuivant of Arms.

Mr Murray’s mother Barbara also had noble blood. She was the daughter of a baronet, Lord Rankeillour, who was appointed Governor of Madras in India after the outbreak of the Second World War. He also served as a Tory MP. Privately educated at Worth Abbey in Sussex, in 1981 Mr Murray married Susan Michie, a professor of health psychology at University College London. After having their three children, of which Laura is youngest, they divorced in 1997. It is through Professor Michie’s side of the family that the Picasso descended. Her grandfather was Eton-educated Henry McLaren, a Liberal MP and the 2nd Baron Aberconway.

He inherited major interests in coal, iron, steel and engineering conglomerates and created the sumptuous gardens at Bodnant Hall, a stately home set in 5,000 acres near Snowdonia.

In 1910 he married Christabel Macnaghten, who would become a noted socialite and beauty famous for her wit and patronage of the arts. A particularly close friend — some say lover — was Samuel Courtauld, the industrialist, art collector and founder of the Courtauld Institute of Art. In 1928 he purchased the Picasso painting.

On Courtauld’s death in 1947, the painting was left to Lady Aberconway, along with his house in Mayfair, Central London. When she in turn died in 1974 it was left to her daughter Anne, the fourth youngest of her five children — and Laura’s future grandmother.

From then on, for almost four decades, the painting would hang in the National Gallery.

Displaying works of art to the public in this way can be a way for owners of objects of ‘national significance’ to defer paying inheritance or capital gains tax.

As well as being a communist, Dame Anne was a hugely important scientist who was recognised as a leading authority on mammalian genetics, helping to develop the techniques that led to human in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).

She and husband Donald Michie had three children — Susan, Jonathan and Caroline. The first two would go on to inherit her political outlook.

Susan is an active member of the Communist Party and last year —seemingly oblivious to the irony considering her status as a lifelong beneficiary of inherited wealth — delivered a speech at a party meeting in which she referred to ‘we the working class’. Meanwhile Jonathan, an Oxford economist and university friend of Labour’s communications director Seumas Milne, is described as ‘hard Left’.

As for the Picasso, that would be inherited by the three siblings when Dame Anne and her ex-husband were tragically killed in a car crash in 2007.

In her will, a publicly-available document the contents of which are revealed here for the first time, she makes specific reference to the painting.

One clause reads: ‘I declare that my Executors and Trustees or the beneficiaries thereof (as the case may be) shall feel free to dispose of my painting ‘Child With A Dove’ by Picasso at present on loan to the National Gallery but in the event of a sale I hereby express the wish but without creating any binding trust or legal obligation that if possible it should be sold to an art gallery or museum in the United Kingdom.’

The much-loved painting remained in the National Gallery until 2010 where it was shown alongside masterpieces such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Cezanne’s Late Bathers.

After a short stint in London’s Courtauld Gallery in 2012 it emerged that auctioneers Christie’s had been asked to find a purchaser for the painting. Concerns were immediately raised at the prospect of it going abroad with the Government banning its export while bids from British galleries and museums were sought.

It is understood that attempts to find a British buyer had been on-going for some years and when none was forthcoming in mid 2013 it was reported that the painting had been sold to a private collector from Qatar. ‘Child with a Dove is an iconic Picasso painting and has a long history in British collections,’ said Lord Inglewood, chairman of the Arts Council-managed Reviewing Committee.

‘It is a great shame that institutions could not raise the funds necessary to keep this beautiful piece of art in this country.’

At the time it was unknown which of Lady Aberconway’s descendants was behind the sale.

That became clearer at the weekend when The Sunday Times revealed the sale was ‘overseen’ by Professor Michie and her brother. Only today, however can the full details of its journey down the generations of the family be told.

Neither Professor Michie nor her brother responded to emails asking them to comment on the sale of the painting. Ms Murray, meanwhile, declined to comment when approached by The Daily Mail.

But a Labour Party source defended her, saying: ‘Laura is passionately committed to creating a fairer and more equal society. It’s a good thing when people with relative privilege want to transform society so that wealth and opportunity is shared. It’s called having a social conscience.’

In previous Twitter postings Ms Murray has hit back against charges of elitism, pointing out that unlike so many of her forebears she had in fact attended a comprehensive school.

‘Of course I’ve benefited from class privilege my whole life,’ she wrote. ‘Growing up in a white middle-class North London family, with parents in professional jobs and the cushion of financial security, that’s a given. I’m the first person in the world to acknowledge my own class privilege.

‘But please don’t invent a fairytale education for me that I never had. Just because you know the name of my dad or my boss — you do not know anything about me or my life. Furthermore, nothing about my life invalidates my opinion that private schools are bad for society!’

As for the Labour Party, this week they were busy trying to cash in on the chaos over Brexit.

‘Tonight we got a step closer to a General Election,’ they Tweeted. ‘Unlike the Tories, we can’t rely on a handful of multi-millionaire donors. Will you chip in to help our people-powered movement?’

Maybe they should look closer to home. According to Electoral Commission records shortly before the 2017 General Election, they received a donation of £14,000.

The donor? None other than Communist Professor Michie, whose daughter Laura is now, of course, settled in her own very comfortable North London home. 

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