Oswald Mosley

Oswald Mosley

Oswald Mosley, the eldest of the three sons of Sir Oswald Mosley (1874–1928), who succeeded to the baronetcy in 1915, and his wife, Maud Mosley (1874–1950), was born on 16th November 1896. When he was five his mother moved out of the family home. According to his son, Nicholas Mosley, "she left her husband on account of his insatiable and promiscuous sexual habits." (1)

Robert Skidelsky claims there was another reason for her actions: "When Mosley was five Maud Mosley obtained a judicial separation from her husband on account of the latter's infidelities and possibly also to protect Tom, as she called her eldest son, from his father's bullying. Thereafter his childhood was divided between his mother's modest house near her family home in Shropshire and the massive neo-Gothic pile of Rolleston Hall... Mosley adored his mother and his paternal grandfather, who in turn worshipped him. To his mother, a pious, fiercely loyal woman, he was a substitute for an absent husband." (2)

At the age of nine he was sent away to West Down, a small preparatory school. Four years later he entered Winchester College. An excellent sportsman he was trained to box and fence by two ex-army NCOs. At fifteen he won the public schools' fencing championship in both foil and sabre. He was less successful with his academic work. He wrote in his autobiography: "Apart from games, the dreary waste of public school existence was only relieved by learning and homosexuality; at that time I had no capacity for the former and I never had any taste for the latter." (3)

Mosley was considered to be a strange boy by the other students and had no friends, but he was not bullied because he was a skillful boxer. "To most boys in his house he appeared stupid, or at least totally uninterested in work... At a time when most fourteen-year-olds are merely pretty, Mosley was already handsome." He hated taking orders for the teachers and older students. One of the other boys recalls him as "very tall, with striking, dark good looks: he could easily have been made into a stage villain." (4)

Oswald Mosley and the First World War

In January 1914 Oswald Mosley became an officer cadet at Sandhurst, which he entered as an officer cadet. "What the cadets liked to do in the evenings was to pile into cars (this was 1913) and go up to London and there provoke fights with the chukers-out at places like the Empire Music Hall... The gangs of toughs, however, were apt to fight amongst themselves. In one dispute about a polo pony there were insults, threats of horse-whippings, violence, and in the subsequent fracas my father, fell from the ledge of an upstairs window and injured his leg." (5).

On the outbreak of the First World War he was commissioned in the 16th Lancers, a cavalry regiment. He spent time in Ireland and then, because there did not seem to be much chance of the cavalry being used in the war, he volunteered to join the newly formed Royal Flying Corps who were in need of observers. Mosley wanted more action and he trained to become a pilot. He knew the chances of being killed was fairly high: "We were like men having dinner together at a country house-party knowing that some must soon leave us for ever; in the end, nearly all." (6)

Oswald Mosley (1915)
Oswald Mosley (1915)

Mosley wrote to his mother not to grieve if he was killed as he was sure he would find death "a most interesting experience". However, while showing off before his mother at Shoreham Airport in May 1915 he crashed his plane and broke his right ankle. He was now sent to fight on the Western Front. However, his leg failed to heal and he was sent home for further operations which saved his leg but left him with a permanent limp and, by October 1916, it was decided that Lieutenant Mosley was only fit for desk work. (7)

Mosley spent the rest of the war working in the Ministry of Munitions and the Foreign Office. He developed a keen interest in politics and he later wrote about his feelings when the Armistice was signed on 11th November, 1918: "I passed through the festive streets and entered one of London's largest and most fashionable hotels, interested by the sounds of revelry which echoed from it. Smooth, smug people, who had never fought or suffered, seemed to the eyes of youth - at that moment age-old with sadness, weariness and bitterness - to be eating, drinking, laughing on the graves of our companions. I stood aside from the delirious throng; silent and alone, ravaged by memory. Driving purpose had begun; there must be no more war. I dedicated myself to politics." (8)

Oswald Mosley in the House of Commons

Mosley spent his time studying the lives of famous English politicians. This included William Pitt, Charles Fox, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. He also arranged to meet leading politicians at the time including Winston Churchill, Herbert Asquith, and Frederick E. Smith. Mosley also had several meetings with Harold Nicolson,
the private secretary of Lord Curzon, the Foreign Secretary. Both leading political parties attempted to recruit him but he eventually joined the Conservative Party over the Liberal Party. (9)

Mosley was selected for the safe-seat of Harrow. In the Harrow Observer it was claimed that Mosley was a Central Office nominee, foisted onto the Harrow Association at the expense of better-qualified local men. In one letter, a local solicitor, A. R. Chamberlayne, attacked the "party caucus" which was able to foist men of wealth and connection onto the local associations. Mosley responded by describing Chamberlayne as a failed politician. (10)

Mosley was a great supporter of the idea that Germany had to be treated harshly after the war: "Even if we discount the possibility of another war in our time... the prospect is not alluring, for ultimate German domination of the world would be assured in an economic if not in a military form... Germany (if treated well in the peace agreement) would become one vast business firm, concentrated on one object, to undersell and crush all competitors in every market of the world." (11)

David Lloyd George, the prime minister, was determined to have a general election as soon as possible after the Armistice. King George V wanted the election to be delayed until the public bitterness towards Germany and the desire for revenge had faded, but Lloyd George insisted on going to the country in the "warm after-glow of victory". It was announced that the 1918 General Election would take place on 12th December. (12)

Drawing of Charles Bradlaugh beingevicted from the House of Commons in 1880
David Low on the David Lloyd George Coalition (1918)

David Lloyd George did a deal with Arthur Bonar Law that the Conservative Party would not stand against Liberal Party members who had supported the coalition government and had voted for him in the Maurice Debate. It was agreed that the Conservatives could then concentrate their efforts on taking on the Labour Party and the official Liberal Party that supported their former leader, Herbert Asquith. The secretary to the Cabinet, Maurice Hankey, commented: "My opinion is that the P.M. is assuming too much the role of a dictator and that he is heading for very serious trouble." (13)

During the campaign Mosley called on German aliens to be deported and that Kaiser Wilhelm II should be tried for war crimes. Germany should be squeezed "until the pips squeaked". He claimed that "Germans had brought disease amongst them, reduced Englishmen's wages, undersold English goods, and ruined social life." (14)

The result announced a fortnight later (to allow for a postal military vote) gave Mosley 13,950, his opponent 3,007. Aged 22, became the youngest MP in the House of Commons. The local newspaper reported: "It must be said of the successful candidate that he fought for all he was worth... Buoyed up by an ambition for a political career, for which he gives much real promise, he has triumphantly succeeded." (15)

In May 1920 Mosley married Lady Cynthia Curzon, the second daughter of the foreign secretary, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, the former Viceroy of India. Mosley had numerous affairs, including relationships with his wife's younger sister Alexandra Metcalfe (1904-1995), and with their stepmother, Grace Curzon (1879-1958). "Their life together started on a high note of mutual passion which was not, however, sustained. Cimmie, as she was always known, was an idealistic, emotional, not very clever woman, who idolized her husband, and wanted to be adored and cherished in return. Mosley's love for her was genuine, and fervently expressed in letters full of baby talk, written in an illegible hand. But he was incapable of fidelity, resented her minding about his love affairs, and he abused her in public for what he saw as her simplicities." (16)

Mosley was not a loyal Conservative and in his maiden speech he made an attack on the government, including Winston Churchill, secretary of state for war and air. Stanley Baldwin, a fellow Tory MP, commented: "He's a cad and a wrong'un and they will find out." According to Jim Wilson: "Mosley had emerged from the war a dashing figure, much in demand by political hostesses, with a barely disguised contempt for what he regarded as middle-class morality; blandly describing his well-known pursuit of married women as flushing the covers." (17)

Mosley often expressed left of centre political views. In 1921 he argued against spending money on trying to overthrow the Bolshevik government in Russia. "It went to my heart to think of £100,000,000 being spent in Russia supporting a mere adventure", while the unemployed "are trying to keep a family on 15s. a week". He went on to argue that "it is evident that great economies can be effected by cutting adrift from all extraneous adventures and commitments, and withdrawing to the normal bounds of Empire." (18)

Oswald Mosley and Ireland

Mosley also became a critic of the government's policy in Ireland. An estimated 10% of the Royal Irish Constabulary resigned between August 1918 and August 1920. Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State for War, suggested that that the government should recruit British ex-servicemen to serve as policemen in Ireland. Over the next few weeks 4,400 men, who received the good wage of 10 shillings a day, joined the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve. They obtained the nickname, Black and Tans, from the colours of the improvised uniforms they initially wore, composed of mixed khaki British Army and rifle green RIC uniform parts. (19)

Complaints were soon received about the behaviour of the Black and Tans and the government was attacked in the House of Commons by the Labour Party for using terror tactics. David Lloyd George rejected these claims in a speech where he denounced the insurgency as "organized assassination of the most cowardly kind" but assured his audience, that "we have murder by the throat". (20)

In October 1920, Mosley in the House of Commons condemned the behaviour of the Black and Tans. "The Government was confusing the right of men to defend themselves with the right to wander around the countryside, destroying the houses and the property of innocent persons, and depriving them of any possible means of earning a livelihood... You will not restore order in Ireland by pulling old women out of their beds and burning their houses." He added that the only way to break down the murder gangs "is to catch them... you must obtain information of their movements... You must act upon it." (21)

The Cairo Gang was a group of British intelligence agents who were sent to Dublin with the intention of assassinating leading members of the IRA. Unfortunately, the IRA had a spy in the ranks of the RIC and twelve members of this group, were killed on the morning of 21st November 1920 in a planned series of simultaneous early-morning strikes engineered by Michael Collins. The men killed included Colonel Wilfrid Woodcock, Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Montgomery, Major Charles Dowling, Captain George Bennett, Captain Leonard Price, Captain Brian Keenlyside, Captain William Newberry, Lieutenant Donald MacLean, Lieutenant Peter Ames, Lieutenant Henry Angliss and Lieutenant Leonard Wilde. (22)

That afternoon the Royal Irish Constabulary drove in trucks into Croke Park during a football match, shooting into the crowd. Fourteen civilians were killed, including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and a further 65 people were wounded. Later that day two republicans, Richard McKee, Peadar Clancy and an unassociated friend, Conor Clune were arrested and after being tortured were shot dead "while trying to escape". (23)

In the House of Commons he continued to criticise government policy in Ireland. Mosley claimed that it was the gross inefficiency of government policy "which has been largely responsible for the death of many of these gallant men". These men had died as a result of the actions of the Black and Tans. He argued that there was "overwhelming evidence.. that this policy of reprisals is a deliberate purpose" and that David Lloyd George "had obliterated the narrow, but very sacred line, which divides justice from indiscriminate revenge". (24)

The government was furious with Mosley for making this speech. It was welcomed by members of the Liberal Party and the Labour Party. One veteran MP, William Wedgwood Benn, described it "one of the best speeches I have ever heard in the House". Mosley joined forces with a group of left-wing political figures that included Ramsay MacDonald, George Douglas Cole, Ben Tillett, Sidney Webb, and Leonard Woolf, to form a Peace with Ireland Council that promised to acquire information on individual atrocities perpetrated by the Black and Tans. (25)

Mosley stands as an Independent

Mosley came under pressure from the Harrow Conservative Association to support the government in the House of Commons. Mosley refused: "I cannot enter Parliament unless I am free to take any action of opposition or association, irrespective of labels, that is compatible with my principles and is conductive to their success. My first consideration must always be the triumph of the causes for which I stand and in the present condition of politics, or in any situation likely to arise in the near future, such freedom of action is necessary to that end." (26)

At a meeting on 14th October, 1922, two younger members of the government, Stanley Baldwin and Leo Amery, urged the Conservative Party to remove Lloyd George from power. Andrew Bonar Law disagreed as he believed that he should remain loyal to the Prime Minister. In the next few days Bonar Law was visited by a series of influential Tories - all of whom pleaded with him to break with Lloyd George. This message was reinforced by the result of the Newport by-election where the independent Conservative won with a majority of 2,000, the coalition Conservative came in a bad third.

Another meeting took place on 18th October. Austen Chamberlain and Arthur Balfour both defended the coalition. However, it was a passionate speech by Baldwin: "The Prime Minister was described this morning in The Times, in the words of a distinguished aristocrat, as a live wire. He was described to me and others in more stately language by the Lord Chancellor as a dynamic force. I accept those words. He is a dynamic force and it is from that very fact that our troubles, in our opinion, arise. A dynamic force is a terrible thing. It may crush you but it is not necessarily right." The motion to withdraw from the coalition was carried by 187 votes to 87. (27)

Oswald Mosley decided to stand in Harrow as an Independent in the 1922 General Election. The Labour and Liberal parties decided not to stand against him and he increased the size of his majority by polling 15,290 against 7,868 for the Tory candidate. However, the Conservative Party won 344 seats and formed the next government. The Labour Party promised to nationalise the mines and railways, a massive house building programme and to revise the peace treaties, went from 57 to 142 seats, whereas the Liberal Party increased their vote and went from 36 to 62 seats. The major loser was the Lloyd George Liberals. (28)

Beatrice Webb, a senior figure in the Labour Party, met Mosley for the first time in June, 1923: "We have made the acquaintance of the most brilliant man in the House of Commons - Oswald Mosley.... If there were a word for the direct opposite of a caricature, for something which is almost absurdly a perfect type, I should apply it to him. Tall and slim, his features not too handsome to be strikingly peculiar to himself, modest yet dignified in manner, with a pleasant voice and unegotistical conversation, this young person would make his way in the world without his adventitious advantages, which are many - birth, wealth and a beautiful aristocratic wife. He is also an accomplished orator in the old grand style, and an assiduous worker in the modern manner - keeps two secretaries at work supplying him with information but realizes that he himself has to do the thinking!" (28a)

Mosley was now in a difficult position. As Robert Skidelsky pointed out: "He (Mosley) might be able to go on holding Harrow for ever, but he could scarcely expect to make his mark on his time as an eccentric Independent of mildly left-wing opinions." Attempts were made to persuade him to join the two main opposition parties. However, he was uncertain which one would give him a route to power and when Stanley Baldwin called another election in November, 1923, he decided to fight it as an Independent. He held the seat but with a reduced majority of 4,646. (29)

In the 1923 General Election, the Labour Party won 191 seats. David Marquand has pointed out that: "The new parliamentary Labour Party was a very different body from the old one. In 1918, 48 Labour M.P.s had been sponsored by trade unions, and only three by the ILP. Now about 100 members belonged to the ILP, while 32 had actually been sponsored by it, as against 85 who had been sponsored by trade unions.... In Parliament, it could present itself for the first time as the movement of opinion rather than of class." (30)

Although the Conservative Party had 258 seats, Herbert Asquith announced that the Liberal Party would not keep the Tories in office. If a Labour Government were ever to be tried in Britain, he declared, "it could hardly be tried under safer conditions". The Daily Mail warned about the dangers of a Labour government and the Daily Herald commented on the "Rothermere press as a frantic attempt to induce Mr Asquith to combine with the Tories to prevent a Labour Government assuming office". (31)

On 22nd January, 1924 Stanley Baldwin resigned. At midday, the 57 year-old, Ramsay MacDonald went to Buckingham Palace to be appointed prime minister. He later recalled how George V complained about the singing of the Red Flag and the La Marseilles, at the Labour Party meeting in the Albert Hall a few days before. MacDonald apologized but claimed that there would have been a riot if he had tried to stop it. (32)

Oswald Mosley joins the Labour Party

It now became clear which party he must join to have a successful political career. On 27th March 1924, Oswald Mosley applied to join the Labour Party. The Liberals reacted angrily to the decision and Margot Asquith wrote to him: "Personally I think you have done an unwise thing at a foolish time, but after all this is your own affair and not mine. You had a very great - if not the greatest chance in the future of leading the Liberal Party... You need courage and conviction to achieve anything big in politics and above all patience and a certain amount of education. Till now I have seen none of these qualities in the new Government." She finished her letter by saying she recently visited Italy: "I had a wonderful time with Mussolini who is a really Big Man." (33)

Ramsay MacDonald was extremely pleased by Mosley decision as it thought his aristocratic background would help the Labour Party to appear "respectable". Mosley immediately joined the Independent Labour Party, the left-wing pressure group in the Labour Party. Some members of the ILP were highly suspicious of his motives. Willie Stewart, a veteran member, commented: "He'll need watching, he's out of a bad nest." Others in the party such as Herbert Morrison and Hugh Dalton "were naturally jealous of a rich recruit who entered with such a fanfare of publicity and felt that their own years of patient toil in the cause had been undervalued by comparison." (34)

Egon Ranshofen-Wertheimer, was a German journalist who saw Mosley speak at a Labour Party public meeting in April, 1924: "Suddenly there was a movement in the crowd, and a young man, with the face of the ruling class in Great Britain, but the gait of a Douglas Fairbanks, thrust himself forward through the throng to the platform, followed by a lady in heavy, costly furs. There stood Oswald Mosley... a new recruit to the Socialist movement at his first London meeting. He was introduced to the audience, and even at that time, I remember, the song "For he's a jolly good fellow", greeted the young man from two thousand throats." (35)

Oswald Mosley
Oswald Mosley

Mosley decided to stand at Ladywood, Birmingham, a seat held by Neville Chamberlain in the 1924 General Election. During the campaign it became clear that Mosley had a good chance of winning the seat. A local journalist wrote: "None of us who went through that fight with him will ever forget it. His power of the audience was amazing, and his eloquence made even hardened Pressmen gasp in astonishment." Mosley commented: "It was a joyous day when in the courtyards running back from the streets in the Birmingham slums we saw the blue window cards coming down and the red going up." (36)

However, four days before the election, The Daily Mail published the Zinoviev Letter. Under the headline "Civil War Plot by Socialists Masters" it argued: "Moscow issues orders to the British Communists... the British Communists in turn give orders to the Socialist Government, which it tamely and humbly obeys... Now we can see why Mr MacDonald has done obeisance throughout the campaign to the Red Flag with its associations of murder and crime. He is a stalking horse for the Reds as Kerensky was... Everything is to be made ready for a great outbreak of the abominable class war which is civil war of the most savage kind." (37)

The rest of the Tory owned newspapers ran the story about the letter (although later it was discovered to be a forgery) over the next few days and it was no surprise when the election was a disaster for the Labour Party. The Conservatives won 412 seats and formed the next government. Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the Daily Express and Evening Standard, told Lord Rothermere, the owner of The Daily Mail and The Times, that the "Red Letter" campaign had won the election for the Conservatives. Rothermere replied that it was probably worth a hundred seats. (38)

Mosley was defeated by only 77 votes. He now became a leading advocate for socialism. He worked very closely with John Strachey, who had also come from a very privileged background. Both men were according to Hugh Thomas, "refugees from the upper class" in a largely proletarian or lower-middle-class world, who were "intoxicated" by "sexual freedom". (39)

Mosley and Strachey both read and impressed with the work of John Maynard Keynes. Mosley attempted to adapt Keynes' theories to his ideas on socialism. At an Independent Labour Party conference at Gloucester, he called for the nationalisation of the banking system "that consecrated combination of private interests and public plunders". The banking system, Mosley explained, lay at the heart of capitalism. "Every capitalist must come to you and you can dictate the conditions under which he will carry on... Let us join to our cry for the minimum wage the battle cry, the banks for the people." (40)

On 3rd May 1925, introduced his "unauthorised economic programme" to Birmingham. Over 5,000 people queued for seats in the Birmingham Town Hall, which seated only half that number. He attacked the government policy of forcing down wages in order to make the workers more employable. Stanley Baldwin had recently claimed that "all the workers of this country have got to face a reduction of wages". Mosley argued that the workers should have their wages raised as it would help stimulate employment. (41)

This message was repeated in another speech the following month by John Strachey. "The cause of poverty was that not enough necessaries were being produced; and when employers were asked why they did not produce more, they replied that it was because there was no effective demand." Strachey argued that the government needed to get control of the banking system and force up wages, thus creating the demand which manufacturers would then supply. (42)

Smethwick By-Election

On 22nd November, John Davison, the Labour MP for Smethwick, was forced to resign on grounds of ill-health. Mosley was immediately selected to replace Davison. This was a controversial decision and some Labour politicians pointed out that the party had been formed to represent the working-class. Philip Snowden, who was opposed to Mosley's economic policies, warned the party not to "degenerate into an instrument for the ambitions of wealthy men" and suggested that some candidatures were being "put up to auction by the local Labour Party and sold to the highest bidder". (43)

Mosley al;so came under attack from Conservative supporting newspapers. They were at different times accused of "flaunting their wealth or adopting heavy proletarian camouflage - and which was the more reprehensible". For example, The Daily Express accused Mosley of preaching socialism "in a twenty guineas Savile Row suit". Then he was condemned for "playing his part well" in an "old overcoat and a battered hat and calling Lady Cynthia "the missus". (44)

Other newspapers wrote articles about the wealthy socialist couple frolicking on the Riviera, spending thousands of pounds in renovating their "mansion" and generally "living a debauched aristocratic life". (45) It has been claimed that these attacks motivated his supporters to work even harder. Mosley argued that: "While I am being abused by the Capitalist Press I know I am doing effective work for the Labour cause." (46)

Oswald Mosley's father joined in those criticizing the candidate. The Daily Mail published a letter from him complaining about Mosley's socialism: "More valuable help would be rendered to the country by my Socialist son and daughter-in-law if, instead of achieving cheap publicity about relinquishing titles, they would take more material action and relinquish some of their wealth and so help to make easier the plight of some of their more unfortunate followers". (47)

Cynthia and Oswald Mosley during the Smethwick election (December, 1926)
Cynthia and Oswald Mosley during the Smethwick election (December, 1926)

He followed this by giving an interview to The Daily Express. "He was born with a golden spoon in his mouth - it cost £100 in doctor's fees to bring him into the world. He lived on the fat of the land and never did a day's work in his life. If he and his wife want to go in for Labour, why don't they do a bit of work themselves? My son tells the tale that he does this and that but he lives in the height of luxury. If the working class... are going to be taken in by such nonsense - I am sorry for them. How does my son know anything about them?" (48)

Newspapers owned by Harold Harmsworth (Lord Rothermere) and William Maxwell Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) reported that Mosley was part of a "Red Plot" and that William Gallagher and Arthur McManus, leading members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, were campaigning for the Labour candidate. The Morning Post complained that "no tactics too contemptible for the Socialists to adopt in their grovelling appeal to all that is most stupid and most deplorable in human nature". (49)

These tactics did not stop him winning Smethwick. His majority of 6,582 on a 80% poll surprised even his most optimistic supporters. To a crowd of 8,000 outside the Town Hall he said that the result was a defeat of the Press Lords: "This is not a by-election, it is history. The result of this election sends out a message to every worker in the land. You have met and beaten the Press of reaction... Tonight all Britain looks to you and thanks you. My wonderful friends of Smethwick, by your heroic battle against a whole world in arms, I believe you have introduced a new era for British democracy." (50)

1929 General Election

Mosley's victory excited some members of the Labour Party. He was a great campaigner and that he had the ability to attract large crowds to public meetings. In October 1927 Mosley was elected to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party with 1,613,000 votes, behind George Lansbury (2,183,000) and Charles Trevelyan (1,675,000). John Wheatley described him in 1926 as "one of the most brilliant and hopeful figures thrown up by the Socialist Movement during the last 30 years". (51)

Ramsay MacDonald was also impressed with Mosley and had the makings of a great party leader. In October 1928, MacDonald and Mosley went on a motor-car tour together that included visits to Prague, Berlin and Vienna. Mosley was also introduced to one of MacDonald's mistresses who was living in Europe. This holiday led to rumours that MacDonald was introducing a future Labour foreign secretary to European statesmen. (52)

In January 1929, 1,433,000 people in Britain were out of work. Stanley Baldwin was urged to take measures that would protect the depressed iron and steel industry. Baldwin ruled this out owing to the pledge against protection which had been made at the 1924 election. Agriculture was in an even worse condition, and here again the government could offer little assistance without reopening the dangerous tariff issue. Baldwin was considered to be a popular prime minister and he fully expected to win the general election that was to take place on 30th May. (53)

In its manifesto the Conservative Party blamed the General Strike for the country's economic problems. "Trade suffered a severe set-back owing to the General Strike, and the industrial troubles of 1926. In the last two years it has made a remarkable recovery. In the insured industries, other than the coal mining industry, there are now 800,000 more people employed and 125,000 fewer unemployed than when we assumed office... This recovery has been achieved by the combined efforts of our people assisted by the Government's policy of helping industry to help itself. The establishment of stable conditions has given industry confidence and opportunity." (54)

The Labour Party attacked the record of Baldwin's government: "By its inaction during four critical years it has multiplied our difficulties and increased our dangers. Unemployment is more acute than when Labour left office.... The Government's further record is that it has helped its friends by remissions of taxation, whilst it has robbed the funds of the workers' National Health Insurance Societies, reduced Unemployment Benefits, and thrown thousands of workless men and women on to the Poor Law. The Tory Government has added £38,000,000 to indirect taxation, which is an increasing burden on the wage-earners, shop-keepers and lower middle classes." (55)

Mosley became an important figure in the campaign. During the election he made a speech attacking Baldwin's government: "Unemployment, wages, rents, suffering, squalor and starvation; the struggle for existence in our streets, the threat of world catastrophe in another war; these are the realities of the present age. These are the problems which require every exertion of the best brains of our time for a vast constructive effort. These are the problems which should unite the nation in a white heat of crusading zeal for their solution. But these are precisely the problems which send Parliament to sleep. When not realities but words are to be discussed Parliament wakes up. Then we are back in the comfortable pre-war world of make-believe. Politics are safe again; hairs are to be split, not facts to be faced. Hush! Do not awaken the dreamers. Facts will wake them in time with a vengeance." (56)

A massive campaign in the Tory press against the proposal of increased public spending proposed by Mosley was very successful. In the 1929 General Election the Conservatives won 8,656,000 votes (38%), the Labour Party 8,309,000 (37%) and the Liberals 5,309,000 (23%). However, the bias of the system worked in Labour's favour, and in the House of Commons the party won 287 seats, the Conservatives 261 and the Liberals 59, and MacDonald formed the next government.

A. J. P. Taylor has argued that the idea of increasing public spending would be good for the economy, was difficult to grasp. "It seemed common sense that a reduction in taxes made the taxpayer richer... Again it was accepted doctrine that British exports lagged because costs of production were too high; and high taxation was blamed for this about as much as high wages." (57). John Maynard Keynes later commented: "The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds." (58)

Instead of being appointed Foreign Secretary (that job went to Arthur Henderson) Mosley was given a fairly junior position, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. David Low remarked that "Mosley was young, energetic, capable and an excellent speaker." Aneurin Bevan thought he was a potential leader of the party. However, Jennie Lee, the recently elected MP for North Lanarkshire, later pointed out: "Another bright light in this 1929 Parliament was Sir Oswald Mosley." However, she added that "he had a fatal flaw in his character, on overwhelming arrogance and an unshakable conviction that he was born to rule." (59)

Mosley Memorandum

In January 1930 unemployment in Britain reached 1,533,000. By March, the figure was 1,731,000. Oswald Mosley proposed a programme that he believed would help deal with the growing problem of unemployment in Britain. According to David Marquand: "It made three main assertions - that the machinery of government should be drastically overhauled, that unemployment could be radically reduced by a public-works programme on the lines advocated by Keynes and the Liberal Party, and that long-term economic reconstruction required a mobilisation of national resources on a larger scale than has yet been contemplated. The existing administrative structure, Mosley argued, was hopelessly inadequate. What was needed was a new department, under the direct control of the prime minister, consisting of an executive committee of ministers and a secretariat of civil servants, assisted by a permanent staff of economists and an advisory council of outside experts." (60)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, was a strong believer in laissez-faire economics and disliked the proposals. (61) MacDonald had doubts about Snowden's "hard dogmatism exposed in words and tones as hard as the ideas" but he also dismissed "all the humbug of curing unemployment by Exchequer grants." (62) MacDonald passed the Mosley Memorandum to a committee consisting of Snowden, Tom Shaw, Arthur Greenwood and Margaret Bondfield. The committee reported back on 1st May. Mosley's administrative proposals, the committee claimed "cut at the root of the individual responsibilities of Ministers, the special responsibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the sphere of finance, and the collective responsibility of the Cabinet to Parliament". The Snowden Report went onto argue that state action to reduce unemployment was highly dangerous. To go further than current government policy "would be to plunge the country into ruin". (63)

MacDonald recorded in his diary what happened when Oswald Mosley heard the news about his proposals being rejected. "Mosley came to see me... had to see me urgently: informed me he was to resign. I reasoned with him and got him to hold his decision over till we had further conversations. Went down to Cabinet Room late for meeting. Soon in difficulties. Mosley would get away from practical work into speculative experiments. Very bad impression. Thomas light, inconsistent but pushful and resourceful; others overwhelmed and Mosley on the verge of being offensively vain in himself." (64)

Mosley was not trusted by most of his fellow MPs. One Labour Party MP, Clement Attlee, said Mosley had a habit of speaking to his colleagues "as though he were a feudal landlord abusing tenants who are in arrears with their rent". (65) John Bew described Mosley as "handsome... lithe and black and shiny... he looked like a panther but behaved like a hyena". (66)

At a meeting of Labour MPs took place on 21st May, Oswald Mosley outlined his proposals. This included the provision of old-age pensions at sixty, the raising of the school-leaving age and an expansion in the road programme. He gained support from George Lansbury and Tom Johnson, but Arthur Henderson, speaking on behalf of MacDonald, appealed to Mosley to withdraw his motion so that his proposals could be discussed in detail at later meetings. Mosley insisted on putting his motion to the vote and was beaten by 210 to 29. (67)

Oswald Mosley
David Low commented on Mosley resigning in May, 1930

Mosley now resigned from the government and was replaced by Clement Attlee. It has been claimed that MacDonald was so fed up with Mosley that he looked around him and choose the "most uninteresting, unimaginative but most reliable among his backbenchers to replace the fallen angel". Winston Churchill said he was "a modest little man, with plenty to be modest about". Mosley was more generous as he accepted that he had "a clear, incisive and honest mind within the limits of his range". However, he added, in agreeing to take his job, Attlee "must be reckoned as content to join a government visibly breaking the pledges on which he was elected." (68)

The New Party

It was now clear that while Ramsay MacDonald was in power, Mosley's economic ideas would never be accepted. He therefore decided he had to have his own political party. In January 1931, Sir William Morris (later Lord Nuffield), a motor-car manufacturer, gave Mosley a cheque for £50,000 to form a new political party. Further donations came from the industrialist, Wyndham Portal, and tobacco millionaire Hugo Cunliffe-Owen. The left-wing Labour MP, Aneurin Bevan, who had supported the Mosley Memorandum, argued that if you accept funding from industrialists, "you will end up as a fascist party". (69)

On 20th February, 1931, Mosley and five Labour Party MPs, Cynthia Mosley, John Strachey, Robert Forgan, Oliver Baldwin (the son of Stanley Baldwin, the leader of the Conservative Party) and William J. Brown, decided to resign from the party. William E. Allen, the Tory MP for West Belfast, and Cecil Dudgeon, the Liberal MP for Galloway, also agreed to join the New Party. However, Brown and Baldwin changed their minds and sat in the House of Commons as Independents and six months later rejoined the Labour Party. (70).

Other people who joined the New Party included Cyril Joad (Director of Propaganda), Harold Nicholson (editor of their journal, Action), Mary Richardson (former member of the Women's Social and Political Union), John Becket and Peter Dunsmore Howard (captain of the England national rugby union team). The New Party's first electoral contest was at Ashton-under-Lyne after the death of Albert Bellamy, the Labour MP. The candidate was Allan Young, and his election agent was Wilfred Risdon. At the by-election on 30th April, 1931, Young split the Labour vote and the Conservative candidate, John Broadbent, was elected. (71)

At a committee meeting on 14th May 1931, Oswald Mosley urged the formation of a group young men to provide protection at political meetings. "The Communist Party will develop a challenge in this country which will seriously alarm people here. You will in effect have the situation which arose in Italy and other countries and which summoned into existence the modern movement which now rules in those countries. We have to build and create the skeleton of an organisation so as to meet it when the time comes." (72)

William E. Allen, Robert Forgan, Cynthia Mosley, Oswald Mosley and John Strachey (June, 1931)
William E. Allen, Robert Forgan, Cynthia Mosley, Oswald Mosley and John Strachey (June, 1931)

These comments disturbed those on the left of the party such as John Strachey and Cyril Joad, who disliked the comparisons with the Sturmabteilung (SA) used by the Nazi Party in Germany. This information was leaked to the press and he was forced to deny the comparisons with Adolf Hitler: "We are simply organising an active force of our young men supporters to act as stewards. The only methods we shall employ will be English ones. We shall rely on the good old English fist." (73)

Cynthia Mosley also disagreed with her husband's move to the right. According to Robert Skidelsky: "Cimmie (Cynthia) was frankly terrified of where his restlessness would lead him. She hated fascism and Harmsworth (Lord Rothermere, the press baron). She threatened to put a notice in The Times disociating herself from Mosley's fascist tendencies. They bickered constantly in public, Cimmie emotional and confused, Mosley ponderously logical and heavily sarcastic." (73a)

Harold Nicholson also was worried by Mosley's attraction to fascism. "What makes it so distressing is that I should like to be able to encourage and support you in everything you do and feel.... I do not think that in practice you will succeed in keeping distinct the ideology of fascism from the violent and untruthful methods which the fascists have adopted in Italy. I think there may well be a future for the corporate state idea in this country. But I do not think... there is any possible future for direct action: we have, by training and temperament, become possessed of indirect minds." (73b)

John Strachey believed that the New Party should develop close contacts with the Soviet Union: "A New Party Government will enter into close economic relations with the Russian Government and will endeav our to conclude such trading contracts between suitable British and Russian statutory organisations as will rapidly develop the controlled interchange of goods between the two countries." When this policy was rejected, Strachey resigned from the party. (74)

In the 1931 General Election the New Party fielded 25 candidates. Mosley obtained 10,500 votes in Stoke but was bottom of the poll. Only two candidates, Mosley and Sellick Davies, standing in Merthyr Tydfil, saved their deposits. The total votes cast for the New Party were 36,377. This compared badly with the Communist Party of Great Britain, which managed 74,824 votes for 26 candidates. Ramsay MacDonald, and his National Government won 556 seats. Mosley told Nicolson that "we have been swept away in a hurricane of sentiment" and that "our time is yet to come". (75)

The British Union of Fascists

In January 1932, Oswald Mosley, William E. Allen and Harold Nicholson visited Italy to study fascism at first hand. Mosley met Benito Mussolini who he found "affable but unimpressive". Mussolini advised Mosley to "call himself a fascist, but not to try the military stunt in England". Nicholson claimed in his diary that Mosley was not put off by the way Mussolini had arrested his opponents and the censorship of Italian newspapers. "Mosley... cannot keep his mind off shock troops, the arrest of MacDonald and J. H. Thomas, their internment in the Isle of Wight and the roll of drums around Westminster. He is a romantic. That is a great failing." (76)

On his return to England, Mosley wrote an article in The Daily Mail about the achievements of Mussolini. "A visit to Mussolini... is typical of that new atmosphere. No time is wasted in the polite banalities which have so irked the younger generation in Britain when dealing with our elder statesmen.... Questions on all relevant and practical subjects are fired with the rapidity and precision of bullets from a machine gun; straight, lucid, unaffected exposition follows of his own views on subjects of mutual interest to him and to his visitor.... The great Italian represents the first emergence of the modern man to power; it is an interesting and instructive phenomenon. Englishmen who have long suffered from statesmanship in skirts can pay him no less, and need pay him no more, tribute than to say, Here at least is a man". (77)

Mosley now became convinced that the time was right to establish a fascist party. There had been fascist groups in the past. Miss Rotha Lintorn-Orman established the British Fascisti organization in 1923. She later said: "I saw the need for an organization of disinterested patriots, composed of all classes and all Christian creeds, who would be ready to serve their country in any emergency." Members of the British Fascists had been horrified by the Russian Revolution. However, they had gained inspiration from what Benito Mussolini had done it Italy. (78)

Most members of the British Fascisti came from the right-wing of the Conservative Party. Early recruits included William Joyce, Maxwell Knight and Nesta Webster. Knight's work as Director of Intelligence for the British Fascists brought him to the attention of Vernon Kell, Director of the Home Section of the Secret Service Bureau. This government organization had responsibility of investigating espionage, sabotage and subversion in Britain and was also known as MI5. In 1925 Kell recruited Knight to work for the Secret Service Bureau and played a significant role in helping to defeat the General Strike in 1926. (79)

Arnold Leese, a retired veterinary surgeon, had founded the Imperial Fascist League (IFL) in 1929. He had a private army called the Fascist Legions, who never numbered more than three dozen, wore black shirts and breeches. The IFL defined fascism as the "patriotic revolt against democracy and a return to statesmanship" and planned to "impose a corporate state" on the country. It also believed that Jews should be banned from citizenship. The IFL enemies were Communism, Freemasonry and Jews. (80)

Mosley originally dismissed the Imperial Fascist League as "one of those crank little societies mad about the Jews". However, on 27th April 1932, Mosley arranged for Leese to speak to New Party members, on the subject of The Blindness of British Politics under Jew Money-Power. However, the two men did not get on well together. Leese refused all co-operation with Mosley, "believing him to be in the pay of the Jews". (81)

The British Union of Fascists (BUF) was formally launched on 1st October, 1932. It originally had only 32 members that included several former members of the New Party: Cynthia Mosley, Robert Forgan, William E. Allen, John Beckett and William Joyce. Mosley told them: "We ask those who join us... to be prepared to sacrifice all, but to do so for no small or unworthy ends. We ask them to dedicate their lives to building in the country a movement of the modern age... In return we can only offer them the deep belief that they are fighting that a great land may live." (82)

Over the next few months a large number of people joined the organisation such as Charles Bentinck Budd, Harold Harmsworth (Lord Rothermere), Major General John Fuller, Wing-Commander Louis Greig, A. K. Chesterton, David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford (Lord Redesdale), Unity Mitford, Diana Mitford, Patrick Boyle (8th Earl of Glasgow), Malcolm Campbell and Tommy Moran. Mosley refused to publish membership figures but the press estimated a maximum number of 35,000. (83)

Mosley decided that members of the BUF should wear a uniform. The black shirt was to be the symbol of fascism. According to Mosley the "black shirt was the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace". The uniform enabled his stewards to recognise each other in a fight against those trying to disrupt BUF meetings. "In addition, the uniform was a symbol of authority, and as such his uniformed squads would not only be a rallying-point, but also a striking-force in any battle that might develop with the communists for the control of the State." (84)

Oswald Mosley
Oswald Mosley in 1932

Mary Richardson was one of those who liked the idea of a uniform: "I was first attracted to the Blackshirts because I saw in them the courage, the action, the loyalty, the gift of service, and the ability to serve which I had known in the suffrage movement". Mosley commented: "In the Blackshirt all men are the same, whether millionaire or on the dole. The barriers of class distinction and social differences are broken down by the Blackshirt within a Movement which aims at the creation of a classroom brotherhood marked only by functional differences." (85)

Mosley began to argue for national socialism: "How can any international system, whether capitalist or Socialist, advance or even maintain the standard of life of our people? None can deny the truism that to sell we must find customers and, as foreign markets progressively close... the home customer becomes ever more the outlet of industry. But the home customer is simply the British people, on whose purchasing power our industry is ever more dependent. For the most part the purchasing power of the British people depends on the wages and salaries they are paid... Yet wages and salaries of the British people are held down far below the level which modern science, and the potential of production, could justify because their labour is subject to... undercutting competition... on both foreign and home markets.... The result is the tragic paradox of poverty and unemployment amid potential plenty.... Internationalism, in fact, robs the British people of the power to buy the goods that the British people produce." (86)

Success in Worthing

Charles Bentinck Budd was elected to the Worthing Town Council as a member of the BUF in October 1933. The national press reported that Worthing was the first town in the country to elect a Fascist councillor. Worthing was now described as the "Munich of the South". Oswald Mosley announced that Budd was the BUF Administration Officer for Sussex . On Friday 1st December 1933, the BUF held its first public meeting in Worthing in the Old Town Hall. According to the author of Storm Tide: Worthing 1933-1939 (2008): "It was crowded to capacity, with the several rows of seats normally reserved for municipal dignitaries and magistrates now occupied by forbidding, youthful men arrived in black Fascist uniforms, in company with several equally young women dressed in black blouses and grey skirts."

On 4th January, 1934, Budd reported that over 150 people in Worthing had joined the British Union of Fascists. He claimed that the greatest intake had come from increasingly disaffected Conservatives. The Weekly Fascist News described the growth in membership as "phenomenal". Budd also announced that local communists had broken into his offices at 27 Marine Parade and stolen 96 BUF badges, together with cigarettes and £2.2s.8d in cash. However, soon afterwards the police arrested Cyril Mitchell of 16 Leigh Road, Broadwater. Mitchell, who admitted the offence, was in fact a young Blackshirt, who had broken into the offices after a night out in the pub. He told the police, "something came over me… I had too much beer".

The mayor of Worthing, Harry Duffield, the leader of the Conservative Party in the town, was most favourably impressed with the Blackshirts and congratulated them on the disciplined way they had marched through the streets of Worthing. He reported that employers in the town had written to him giving their support for the British Union of Fascists. They had "no objection to their employees wearing the black shirt even at work; and such public spirited action on their part was much appreciated."

Oswald Mosley
Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts.

On 26th January, 1934, William Joyce, the deputy leader of the BUF, addressed a public meeting at the Pier Pavilion. Over 900 people turned up to hear Joyce speak. In his speech he pledged to free British industry from foreigners, "be they Hebrew or any other form of alien." Joyce ended his two-hour speech with: "Reclaim what is your own in the fullness of Fascist victory!"

It was announced that Charles Bentinck Budd had arranged for Oswald Mosley and William Joyce to address a meeting at the Pavilion on 9th October, 1934. The venue was packed with fascist supporters. The meeting was disrupted when a few hecklers were ejected by hefty East End bouncers. Mosley, however, continued his speech undaunted, telling his audience that Britain's enemies would have to be deported: "We were assaulted by the vilest mob you ever saw in the streets of London - little East End Jews, straight from Poland. Are you really going to blame us for throwing them out?"

At the close of the proceedings the main body of uniformed Fascists, led by Joyce, emerged from the Pavilion on to the Esplanade. It was estimated that there were 2,000 people waiting outside. The crowd surged forward and several fights began. A ninety-six-year-old woman, Doreen Hodgkins, was struck on the head by a Blackshirt before being escorted away. When the Blackshirts retreated inside, the crowd began to chant: "Poor old Mosley's got the wind up!"

The author of Storm Tide: Worthing 1933-1939 (2008) has pointed out: "By this time all nineteen available members of the Borough's police force had been called out, and through their combined efforts a lane through the crowd was forced open from the Pavilion steps across the Esplanade to Marine Parade. But as Joyce and his re-formed black-shirted cohort passed along it they were constantly barracked and jostled; while the sudden appearance of Sir Oswald himself, together with the bodyguards of his Defence Force, led to a further outbreak of scuffles on the Esplanade as large numbers of spectators eagerly closed in upon him. One Blackshirt was knocked to the ground and there were shouts for Sir Oswald to be thrown into the sea... Despite such imprecations, however, the mood of the majority remained largely good-natured: most people, prompted by curiosity and awe, simply wanting to get a closer, more proper, look at such a famous yet notorious figure. But Sir Oswald, clearly out of countenance and feeling menaced, at once ordered his tough, battle-hardened bodyguards - all of imposing physique and, like their leader, towering over the policemen on duty - to close ranks and adopt their fighting stance which, unsurprisingly, as all were trained boxers, had been modelled on, and closely resembled, that of a prize fighter."

Chris Hare, the author of Historic Worthing (2008) has argued: "Mosley, accompanied by William Joyce, left the Pavilion and, protected by a large body of blackshirts, crossed over the road to Barnes's cafe in the Arcade. Stones and rotten vegetables were soon crashing through the windows of the cafe. Boys were observed firing peashooters at the beleaguered Fascists, while some youths were taking aim with air rifles. Meanwhile a group of young men climbed onto the roof of the Arcade and dislodged a large piece of masonry, which plummeted to earth through the arcade, landing only feet away from the Fascist leader. Things were getting too hot for the Fascists, who made a run for it, up the Arcade into Montague Street, then into South Street. Their intention was presumably to reach either their headquarters in Ann Street, or The Fountain in South Street, known as a 'Fascist pub', but they were ambushed on the corner of Warwick Street by local youths. Hearing the row, more Fascists hurried down from the Fountain to go to Mosley's aid. Fights broke out, bodies were slung against shop windows, and startled residents threw open their windows to see a seething mass of entangled bodies desperately struggling for control of the junction between South Street and Warwick Street."

Superintendent Bristow later claimed that a crowd of about 400 people attempted to stop the Blackshirts from getting to their headquarters. A series of fights took place and several people were injured. Francis Skilton, a solicitor's clerk who had left his home at 30 Normandy Road to post a letter at the Central Post Office in Chapel Road, and got caught up in the fighting. A witness, John Birts, later told the police that Skilton had been "savagely attacked by at least three Blackshirts." It was not until 11.00 p.m. that the police managed to clear the area.

Anti-Semitism

By 1934 Mosley was expressing strong anti-Semitic views and provocative marches through Jewish districts in London led to riots. The passing of the 1936 Public Order Act that made the wearing of political uniforms and private armies illegal, using threatening and abusive words a criminal offence, and gave the Home Secretary the powers to ban marches, completely undermined the activities of the BUF.

Mosley attracted members from other right-wing groups such as the British Fascisti, National Fascists and the Imperial Fascist League. By 1934 the BUF was able to establish its own drinking clubs and football teams. The BUF also gained the support of Lord Rothermere and the Daily Mail. Rothermere wrote an article, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, on 22nd January, 1934, in which he praised Mosley for his "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine". Rothermere added: "Timid alarmists all this week have been whimpering that the rapid growth in numbers of the British Blackshirts is preparing the way for a system of rulership by means of steel whips and concentration camps. Very few of these panic-mongers have any personal knowledge of the countries that are already under Blackshirt government. The notion that a permanent reign of terror exists there has been evolved entirely from their own morbid imaginations, fed by sensational propaganda from opponents of the party now in power. As a purely British organization, the Blackshirts will respect those principles of tolerance which are traditional in British politics. They have no prejudice either of class or race. Their recruits are drawn from all social grades and every political party. Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King's Road, Chelsea, London, S.W."

According to a MI5 report in 1934 the BUF had between 35,000 and 40,000 active members. It also said that senior service officers and prominent businessmen had joined the party. The Conservative Party became concerned about losing members to the BUF. One of their MPs, Colonel Thomas Moore, wrote in the Daily Mail on 25th April 1934: "Surely there cannot be any fundamental difference of outlook between the Blackshirts and their parents, the Conservatives?"

Lord Rothermere and Oswald Mosley

The London Evening News, another newspaper owned by Lord Rothermere, found a more popular and subtle way of supporting the Blackshirts. It obtained 500 seats for a BUF rally at the Royal Albert Hall and offered them as prizes to readers who sent in the most convincing reasons why they liked the Blackshirts. Another title owned by Rothermere, The Sunday Dispatch, even sponsored a Blackshirt beauty competition to find the most attractive BUF supporter. Not enough attractive women entered and the contest was declared void.

David Low heard Mosley speak at a meeting in London: "Mosley spoke effectively at great length. Delivery excellent, matter reckless. Interruptions began, but no dissenting voice got beyond half a dozen sentences before three or four bullies almost literally jumped on him, bashed him and lugged him out. Two such incidents happened near me. An honest looking blue-eyed student type rose and shouted indignantly Hitler means war! whereupon he was given the complete treatment."

Mosley appointed William Joyce as the party full-time Propaganda Director. Joyce, along with Mosley and Mick Clarke, were the organisations three main public speakers. On 7th June, 1934, the British Union of Fascists held a large rally at Olympia. About 500 anti-fascists including Vera Brittain, Richard Sheppard and Aldous Huxley, managed to get inside the hall. When they began heckling Oswald Mosley they were attacked by 1,000 black-shirted stewards. Several of the protesters were badly beaten by the fascists.

Margaret Storm Jameson pointed out in The Daily Telegraph: "A young woman carried past me by five Blackshirts, her clothes half torn off and her mouth and nose closed by the large hand of one; her head was forced back by the pressure and she must have been in considerable pain. I mention her especially since I have seen a reference to the delicacy with which women interrupters were left to women Blackshirts. This is merely untrue... Why train decent young men to indulge in such peculiarly nasty brutality?"

The Daily Mail continued to give its support to the fascists. George Ward Price wrote about anti-fascist demonstrators at a meeting of the National Union of Fascists on 8th June, 1934: "If the Blackshirts movement had any need of justification, the Red Hooligans who savagely and systematically tried to wreck Sir Oswald Mosley's huge and magnificently successful meeting at Olympia last night would have supplied it. They got what they deserved. Olympia has been the scene of many assemblies and many great fights, but never had it offered the spectacle of so many fights mixed up with a meeting."

Collin Brooks, was a journalist who worked for Lord Rothermere at the The Sunday Dispatch. He also attended the the rally at Olympia. Brooks wrote in his diary: "He mounted to the high platform and gave the salute - a figure so high and so remote in that huge place that he looked like a doll from Marks and Spencer's penny bazaar. He then began - and alas the speakers hadn't properly tuned in and every word was mangled. Not that it mattered - for then began the Roman circus. The first interrupter raised his voice to shout some interjection.The mob of storm troopers hurled itself at him. He was battered and biffed and hashed and dragged out - while the tentative sympathisers all about him, many of whom were rolled down and trodden on, grew sick and began to think of escape. From that moment it was a shambles. Free fights all over the show. The Fascist technique is really the most brutal thing I have ever seen, which is saving something. There is no pause to hear what the interrupter is saying: there is no tap on the shoulder and a request to leave quietly: there is only the mass assault. Once a man's arms are pinioned his face is common property to all adjacent punchers." Brooks also commented that one of his "party had gone there very sympathetic to the fascists and very anti-Red". As they left the meeting he said "My God, if ifs to be a choice between the Reds and these toughs, I'm all for the Reds".

MI5 also reported to the Home Office that the rally would have a negative impact on the future of the National Union of Fascists: "It is becoming increasingly clear that at Olympia Mosley suffered a check which is likely to prove decisive. He suffered it, not at the hands of the Communists who staged the provocations and now claim the victory; but at the hands of Conservative MPs, the Conservative press and all those organs of public opinion which made him abandon the policy of using his Defence Force to overwhelm interrupters."

In July, 1934 Lord Rothermere suddenly withdrew his support for Oswald Mosley. The historian, James Pool, the author of Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979), argues: "The rumor on Fleet Street was that the Daily Mail's Jewish advertisers had threatened to place their adds in a different paper if Rothermere continued the profascist campaign." Pool points out that sometime after this, Rothermere met with Hitler at the Berghof and told how the "Jews cut off his complete revenue from advertising" and compelled him to "toe the line." Hitler later recalled Rothermere telling him that it was "quite impossible at short notice to take any effective countermeasures."

Oswald Mosley with members of the British Union of Fascists
Oswald Mosley with members of the British Union of Fascists

Oswald Mosley began an affair with Diana Mitford, the daughter of the 2nd Baron Redesdale, one of Mosley's wealthy supporters. Diana left her husband but Mosley refused to desert his wife. It was not until Cynthia Curzon died of peritonitis, that Mosley agreed to marry Diana. In October 1936, Diana and Mosley were secretly married in the house of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Adolf Hitler was one of only six guests at the ceremony. While in Nazi Germany Diana talked to Hitler about the possibility of establishing a pro-Nazi radio station in Britain.

Second World War

The outbreak of the Second World War further reduced support for the British Union of Fascists. On 18th December 1939, the police raided the flat of Norah Elam where they found documents suggesting that she had been taking part in secret meetings of right-wing groups. A letter from Oswald Mosley stated that "Mrs Elam had his full confidence, and was entitled to do what she thought fit in the interests of the movement on her own responsibility." On 23rd January 1940, Norah was arrested and interrogated him in order to establish whether her handling of BUF funds had been illegal or improper.

A MI5 report suggested that it was suspicious that Norah Elam had been placed in charge of BUF funds. Mosley told Special Branch detectives: "As regards the money paid to Mrs Elam we have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to conceal. When war became imminent we had to be prepared for any eventually. There might have been an air raid, our headquarters might have been smashed by a mob, I myself was expecting to be assassinated. I may tell you quite frankly that I took certain precautions. It was necessary then for us to disperse the funds in case anything should happen to headquarters or the leaders. Mrs. Elam therefore took charge of part of our funds for a short period before and after the declaration of war. There was nothing illegal or improper about this."

Oswald Mosley Imprisoned

On 22nd May 1940 the British government announced the imposition of Defence Regulation 18B. This legislation gave the Home Secretary the right to imprison without trial anybody he believed likely to "endanger the safety of the realm". The following day, Mosley was arrested. Over the next few days other prominent figures in the BUF were imprisoned. On the 30th May the BUF was dissolved and its publications were banned.

Mosley and his wife received privileged treatment while in prison. Winston Churchill granted permission for the couple to live in a small house inside Holloway Prison. They were given a small garden where they could sunbathe and grow their own vegetables. They were even allowed to employ fellow prisoners as servants.

In November 1943, Herbert Morrison controversially decided to order the Mosleys to be released from prison. There were large-scale protests and even Diana's sister, Jessica Mitford, described the decision as "a slap in the face of anti-fascists in every country and a direct betrayal of those who have died for the cause of anti-fascism."

Post-War Oswald Mosley

After the war Mosley and Diana Mosley established Euphorion Books in an attempt to publish the work of right-wing authors. In 1947 Mosley formed the Union Movement which advocated British integration in Europe and an end to commonwealth immigration. The couple left England in 1949 and after a period in Ireland settled in France where they lived close to their friends, the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson.

Mosley was unsuccessful in his two attempts to enter the House of Commons for Kensington North (1959) and Shoreditch & Finsbury (1966). As Robert Skidelsky has pointed out: "After the war Mosley started a Union Movement dedicated to creating a united Europe. But the idea had little resonance, coming from that tainted source. In the 1950s he attacked coloured immigration into Britain. He stood as Union Movement candidate for North Kensington in the general election of 1959, losing his deposit; a second intervention at Shoreditch and Finsbury in 1966 fared even worse... In his last years he suffered from Parkinson's disease."

Oswald Mosley died on 3rd December 1980.

Primary Sources

(1) Beatrice Webb, diary entry (8th June, 1923)

We have made the acquaintance of the most brilliant man in the House of Commons - Oswald Mosley.... If there were a word for the direct opposite of a caricature, for something which is almost absurdly a perfect type, I should apply it to him. Tall and slim, his features not too handsome to be strikingly peculiar to himself, modest yet dignified in manner, with a pleasant voice and unegotistical conversation, this young person would make his way in the world without his adventitious advantages, which are many - birth, wealth and a beautiful aristocratic wife. He is also an accomplished orator in the old grand style, and an assiduous worker in the modern manner - keeps two secretaries at work supplying him with information but realizes that he himself has to do the thinking!

(2) Egon Ranshofen-Wertheimer, Vorwärts (April, 1924)

Suddenly there was a movement in the crowd, and a young man, with the face of the ruling class in Great Britain, but the gait of a Douglas Fairbanks, thrust himself forward through the throng to the platform, followed by a lady in heavy, costly furs. There stood Oswald Mosley... a new recruit to the Socialist movement at his first London meeting. He was introduced to the audience, and even at that time, I remember, the song "For he's a jolly good fellow", greeted the young man from two thousand throats.... But then came something unexpected... from the audience there came calls; they grew more urgent, and suddenly the elegant lady in furs got up from her seat and said a few sympathetic words... "Lady Cynthia Mosley", whispered in my ear one of the armleted stewards who stood near me, excited, and later, as though thinking he had not sufficiently impressed me, he added, "Lord Curzon's daughter". His whole face beamed proudly. All round the audience was still in uproar.

(3) Sir Oswald Mosley Snr., interviewed in the The Daily Express (13th December, 1926)

He was born with a golden spoon in his mouth - it cost £100 in doctor's fees to bring him into the world. He lived on the fat of the land and never did a day's work in his life. If he and his wife want to go in for Labour, why don't they do a bit of work themselves? My son tells the tale that he does this and that but he lives in the height of luxury. If the working class... are going to be taken in by such nonsense - I am sorry for them. How does my son know anything about them?

(4) Oswald Mosley, speech at Birmingham (15th May, 1929)

Unemployment, wages, rents, suffering, squalor and starvation; the struggle for existence in our streets, the threat of world catastrophe in another war; these are the realities of the present age. These are the problems which require every exertion of the best brains of our time for a vast constructive effort. These are the problems which should unite the nation in a white heat of crusading zeal for their solution. But these are precisely the problems which send Parliament to sleep. When not realities but words are to be discussed Parliament wakes up. Then we are back in the comfortable pre-war world of make-believe. Politics are safe again; hairs are to be split, not facts to be faced. Hush! Do not awaken the dreamers. Facts will wake them in time with a vengeance.

(5) Jennie Lee, My Life With Nye (1980)

Another bright light in this 1929 Parliament was Sir Oswald Mosley. He had a fatal flaw in his character, on overwhelming arrogance and an unshakable conviction that he was born to rule, drove him on to the criminal folly of donning a black shirt and surrounding himself with a band of bullyboys, and so becoming a pathetic imitation Hitler, doomed to political impotence for the rest of his life.The Daily Express

(6) David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald (1977)

On January 23rd, Mosley sent MacDonald a copy of a long memorandum on the economic situation, on which he had been at work for well over a month, and which has gone down to history as the "Mosley Memorandum". It made three main assertions - that the machinery of government should be drastically overhauled, that unemployment could be radically reduced by a public-works programme on the lines advocated by Keynes and the Liberal Party, and that long -term economic reconstruction required "a mobilisation of national resources on a larger scale than has yet been contemplated". The existing administrative structure, Mosley argued, was hopelessly inadequate. What was needed was a new department, under the direct control of the prime minister, consisting of an executive committee of ministers and a secretariat of civil servants, assisted by a permanent staff of economists and an advisory council of outside experts. The problems of substance, he went on, had to be looked at under two quite separate headings, which had so far been muddled up. First, there was the long-term problem of economic reconstruction, which could be solved only by systematic Government planning, designed to create new industries as well as to revitalize old ones. Second, there was the immediate problem of unemployment. This could be solved by making road-building a national responsibility, by raising a loan of £200 million and spending it on roads and other public works over the next three years, by raising the school-leaving age and by introducing earlier retirement pensions. Whatever their faults, Mosley concluded flamboyantly, his proposals "at least represent a coherent and comprehensive conception of national policy... It is for those who object to show either that present policy is effective for its purpose, or to present a reasoned alternative which offers a greater prospect of success.

(7) Ramsay MacDonald, diary entry (19th May, 1930)

Mosley came to see me... had to see me urgently: informed me he was to resign. I reasoned with him and got him to hold his decision over till we had further conversations. Went down to Cabinet Room late for meeting. Soon in difficulties. Mosley would get away from practical work into speculative experiments. Very bad impression. Thomas light, inconsistent but pushful and resourceful; others overwhelmed and Mosley on the verge of being offensively vain in himself.

(8) Oswald Mosley, The Daily Mail (1st February, 1932)

A visit to Mussolini... is typical of that new atmosphere. No time is wasted in the polite banalities which have so irked the younger generation in Britain when dealing with our elder statesmen. The talk is neither of the beauty of the Italian sunsets nor of the sweetness of the birds singing in the gooseberry bushes....

Questions on all relevant and practical subjects are fired with the rapidity and precision of bullets from a machine gun; straight, lucid, unaffected exposition follows of his own views on subjects of mutual interest to him and to his visitor.

Every moment possible is wrung from time; the mind is hard, concentrated, direct - in a word, "Modern".
The great Italian represents the first emergence of the modern man to power; it is an interesting and instructive phenomenon. Englishmen who have long suffered from statesmanship in skirts can pay him no less, and need pay him no more, tribute than to say, "Here at least is a man".

(9) Oswald Mosley, Tomorrow We Live (1938) pages 28-30

How can any international system, whether capitalist or Socialist, advance or even maintain the standard of life of our people? None can deny the truism that to sell we must find customers and, as foreign markets progressively close... the home customer becomes ever more the outlet of industry. But the home customer is simply the British people, on whose purchasing power our industry is ever more dependent. For the most part the purchasing power of the British people depends on the wages and salaries they are paid... Yet wages and salaries of the British people are held down far below the level which modern science, and the potential of production, could justify because their labour is subject to... undercutting competition... on both foreign and home markets.... The result is the tragic paradox of poverty and unemployment amid potential plenty.... Internationalism, in fact, robs the British people of the power to buy the goods that the British people produce.

(10) David Low, Autobiography (1956)

The British Fascist Party was comparatively insignificant until Mosley took over its leadership. Mosley was young, energetic, capable and an excellent speaker. Since I had met him in 1925 he had graduated from close friendship with MacDonald to a job in the second Labour Government; but he had become disgusted with the evasions over unemployment and had resigned to start a party of his own.

Unfortunately at the succeeding general election he fell ill with influenza and his party-in-embryo, deprived of his brilliant talents, was wiped out. Mosley was too ambitious to retire into obscurity. Looking around for a "vehicle" he united himself to the British Fascists, rechristened "the Blackshirts", and acquired almost automatically the encouragement of Britain's then biggest newspaper, the Daily Mail, which was more than willing to extend its admiration for the Italian original to the local imitation. That was a fateful influenza germ.

(11) Lord Northcliffe, The Daily Mirror (22nd January, 1934)

Timid alarmists all this week have been whimpering that the rapid growth in numbers of the British Blackshirts is preparing the way for a system of rulership by means of steel whips and concentration camps.

Very few of these panic-mongers have any personal knowledge of the countries that are already under Blackshirt government. The notion that a permanent reign of terror exists there has been evolved entirely from their own morbid imaginations, fed by sensational propaganda from opponents of the party now in power.

As a purely British organization, the Blackshirts will respect those principles of tolerance which are traditional in British politics. They have no prejudice either of class or race. Their recruits are drawn from all social grades and every political party.

Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King's Road, Chelsea, London, S.W.

(12) The Daily Express (23rd April, 1934)

As a spectacle it was an impressive sight.. The raucous presentrnent of Sir Oswald's voice began to crash round the hall. usica1 as it was through the microphone, the voice was weaving its spell-the peroration was perfect. Sir Oswald, his voice rising and falling, talked of the makers of the Empire, of the Constitution and history.

(13) Chris Hare, Historic Worthing (2008)

Despite local hostility, the Fascist branch in Worthing was one of the most successful in the south of England, a fact that Captain Budd was keen to stress in an interview with the press: "Fascism is the one thing that will sage this country from the trouble for which it is heading! When I was put in charge of this area was given to understand that I would find things slow in West Sussex; but now I find the people very eager and interested in our movement." In recognition of the hard work being done in Worthing for the movement, it was arranged for Mosley to hold a Fascist rally at the Pavilion in Worthing on 9 October 1934. In the meantime Captain Budd was once again grabbing the local headlines. He stormed out of the Town Hall when other councillors refused to give him the committee places he desired. And he attacked the Council fur its police of banning the Fascists from holding open-air meetings on the site of the old fish market near the pier. He protested that the Salvation Army was allowed to hold meetings there, so why not the Fascists, but was bluntly told that this privilege was only extended to religious bodies.

The night of 9 October proved to be a desperate affair, one local newspaper describing the night's events as more akin to revolutionary Spain than one would usually expect in an English town. As Mosley addressed a carefully vetted audience in the Pavilion, an angry mob gathered outside. The meeting, stage-managed to the least detail, was disrupted when a small hand of intruders let off a number of squibs, and had to be ejected by hefty East End bouncers....

After the rally, Mosley, accompanied by William Joyce, left the Pavilion and, protected by a large body of blackshirts, crossed over the road to Barnes's cafe in the Arcade. Stones and rotten vegetables were soon crashing through the windows of the cafe. Boys were observed firing peashooters at the beleaguered Fascists, while some youths were taking aim with air rifles. Meanwhile a group of young men climbed onto the roof of the Arcade and dislodged a large piece of masonry, which plummeted to earth through the arcade, landing only feet away from the Fascist leader. Things were getting too hot for the Fascists, who made a run for it, up the Arcade into Montague Street, then into South Street. Their intention was presumably to reach either their headquarters in Ann Street, or The Fountain in South Street, known as a "Fascist pub", but they were ambushed on the corner of Warwick Street by local youths. Hearing the row, more Fascists hurried down from the Fountain to go to Mosley's aid. Fights broke out, bodies were slung against shop windows, and startled residents thrcxv open their windows to see a seething mass of entangled bodies desperately struggling for control of the junction between South Street and Warwick Street. Only the arrival of a large force of police defused the situation. Several blackshirts were arrested and led away to the cheers of the crowd.

Mosley made two more public appearances in Worthing during the 1930s. On both occasions the police visited the houses of several local young men during the days before, confiscating catapults and air rifles. These meetings were, however, more low-key, and the Fascists never again tried to march en masse through the streets of the town. The antipathy felt towards the Fascists again manifested itself on 5 November 1934. During the previous days several Worthing boys and men known to be hostile to the Fascists had been waylaid at night and beaten up. Bonfire Night saw several cases of retaliation. At least one blackshirt was thrown in the sea, and others had to run the fiery gauntlet. Cars were stopped, and passengers scrutinised before being allowed to pass on. A group of nearly a thousand people gathered outside a hotel, where it was alleged a number of Fascist leaders were staying. A plentiful supply of squibs and crackers were thrown up at the windows, as the crowd howled its fury. Presently a window opened, and several buckets of cold water were showered down on the besieging party. The arrival of the police prevented an escalation of the disturbances, but not before Worthing had truly resurrected the spirit of Bonfire Nights past.

Superintendent Bristow's comment, quoted in the national press, that the Fascists were "just very nice Worthing people", caused a certain degree of embarrassment, and he retired from his post a few months later. Due to the perceived improvement in the law and order situation in the town, the police had not for some years been Issued with helmets, caps being considered quite adequate. From 1935-37 the police were reissued with helmets. Bonfire Night remained a problem, and after the war became extremely disorderly, culminating in a serious riot on the night of 5 November 1958, after which stringent measures were taken to suppress the wild excesses of the "Bonfire Boys" once and for all.

(14) Michael Payne, Storm Tide: Worthing 1933-1939 (2008)

Still anxious to speak to the people of Worthing himself where, he had become convinced, his movement had built up a strong position, and he himself would receive a warm reception, Sir Oswald announced that he would address a meeting at the Pavilion on October 9. Prior to the event, those supporters who wished to meet him, briefly but privately, were invited to apply in writing to Captain Budd, who from amongst their number selected those with the most "serious and earnest enquiries to make." Also to be admitted into his presence were representatives of both the BUF Sussex and Hampshire HQs, who would use the occasion to present their leader with a portrait of himself embossed in relief on a bronze plaque.

"Hear Moseley at the Pavilion," ran the Fascist advertisement in the local press in heralding his forthcoming appearance, below which, in an accompanying box, was depicted a simple but striking line drawing in ink of the Fascist leader. In company with a score or so members of his Defence Force, he duly arrived from London in a black lorry, the windows of which had been covered in protective wire netting; but even though the vehicle also contained several so called "ambulance" men, who were regularly on hand at rallies to treat casualties, he was hardly expecting any serious trouble. However, in looking upon Worthing as a relatively safe and peaceful haven for himself and his followers, in contrast to the Socialist cauldrons of London and the industrial cities of the Midlands and North - a town, in fact, ever more receptive to, and supportive of, his Fascist creed - he was soon to be disabused of such a misguided notion. An inkling of what might transpire during his sojourn in the Borough might have been gathered from the sensational daubing of paint on the facade of the Town Hall, during the night prior to the meeting, of the slogans: "Damn Moseley! Fight Fascism! No more War;" or from the tarspattered Georgian facade of the BUF HQ on Marine Parade and the similarly besmirched crazy paving at the home of Captain Budd.

The following evening, as the meeting inside got under way, the crowd gathering outside the Pavilion grew steadily larger, with accompanying shouts and cat-calls, the sharp explosions of firecrackers and the whooshing of rockets; while more emboldened individuals hammered continuously on the bolted doors of the auditorium and on the iron supports of the Pier beneath it. But at this stage the kerfuffle appeared more akin to high-spiritedness than violent disturbance, with even the watchful black-shirted stewards generally Ignoring the commotion. To David Bernard Trent of Park Road, the whole affair seemed to be a joke on the part of the crowd - which, he further observed, was just as well, for at 7.30 p.m. lie could discern just four policemen in attendance. Posted by Superintendent Bristow, as far as these youthful looking 'Bristow Babies' were concerned, they were faced by a peaceful gathering simply letting off a few fireworks.

Within the Pavilion itself the meeting went off in an orderly enough manner - although hearing that the event might be stormy at least one lady arrived having taken the precaution of concealing a Life Preserver in her attire - for although the house was packed the audience was largely composed of Fascist supporters, including contingents from London and all parts of Sussex. Prior to the actual start, a file of black-bloused young women had formed up in the Foyer to hail the arrival of their leader, but prudently he had entered the theatre by means of the stage door at the rear. With less foresight his mother had entered by the front entrance where she had been startled by a fire cracker being thrown at her. Finally the curtain rose to reveal Sir Oswald himself standing alone on the stage. Clad entirely in black, his great silver belt buckle gleaming, his right arm raised in the Fascist salute, lie was spellbindingly illuminated in the hushed, almost reverential atmosphere by the glare of spotlights from right, left and centre. A forest of black-sleeved arms immediately shot up to hail him, but finding himself completely blinded, the dramatic effect was immediately shattered by his opening words requesting that the centre beam be switched off...

Again the police intervened to restore order and with shouts, accusations and insults ringing in his ears Sir Oswald was enabled, in company with his mother and bodyguards, to reach Marine Parade. His immediate destination was Barnes Cafe, almost directly opposite, but before entering it he led his troops, attired in their heavy boots and riding breeches, fists clenched and elbows stuck out, in a defiantly ostentatious and provocative march around the adjacent South Street traffic island. Several tomatoes were thrown at them, but an easier target was provided by a group of Fascist women crossing Marine Parade at the same moment. One tomato struck the unfortunate Winifred Collins on her left eye, an experience which she afterwards described as "very squashy." Mary Hodges, on the other hand, was struck by the filthy and hostile language hurled at her by many of the onlookers; while her companion, Florence Spiers - herself hit on the head by a tomato - noted that the crowd was very far from being "the nice friendly one composed of old ladies and cripples" she had been led to expect.

Gathered at last in the comparative safety of the Cafe, which had been gained amid a cascade of fire crackers, nevertheless, from outside the Blackshirts continued to be subject to a barrage of taunts and threats, which included: "Come out Moseley and show yourself, or we'll come in and get you;" "Come out you dirty coward;" "Down with'em, kill'em;" together with the chant: "One, two, three, four, five, we want Moseley dead or alive." To avoid being struck by
tomatoes being thrown in at them, a number of which had already bespattered the waitresses, or wounded by pellets being fired from an air pistol by a youth of about sixteen from the Esplanade's balustrade, those inside the Cafe shut the windows: but as these began to be smashed by stones from the beach, Sir Oswald, following a hasty discussion with Joyce, ordered his second-in-command to create a diversion by leading his own fifteen or so bodyguards in a march up South Street to the branch HQ in Warwick Street.

As they left the Cafe, in company with a contingent of Fascist women and local supporters, they were indeed, as they had anticipated, immediately accompanied by a sizeable section of the crowd, which immediately broke into boos, shouted insults and chants of The Red Front. Both groups broke into a run, during which, in attempting to protect a Fascist woman, a Blackshirt, Mr. Chamberlain, was knocked violently to the ground. "Go home and wash your husband's shirt and cook his dinner," bellowed an incensed man at the equally dazed woman. On gaining the western entrance to Warwick Street, the Blackshirts found it blocked by a further, larger, and even more hostile group, many among which mockingly raised their arms in the Communist salute. Deciding to detour through Market Street, here, too, they found the roadway and pavements thronging with people, several of whom, spoiling for a fight, were only too eager to embroil themselves in brawls with the beleaguered Fascists. They were not to be disappointed, and as one hefty Blackshirt was sent sprawling into a shop doorway by punches from an equally robust "civilian," the battle of Market Street commenced. Immediately several bedroom windows were flung open as startled residents in their night attire peeped from behind curtains at the melee below in terror and amazement.

Meanwhile, just as Sir Oswald was preparing to slip away from the Cafe - before it could be further damaged and in order to quell the growing alarm of the proprietor and the several remaining women Fascists - word reached him of the dire predicament Joyce and his men were in. Darting out onto the pavement and breaking into a double, Sir Oswald and his cohort of bodyguards sped east along Marine Parade before turning left into Bedford Row and thence to the eastern entrance to Market Street where, with himself as the spearhead, they immediately charged from the rear the mob assailing Joyce's force. Caught completely off guard by this unforeseen sally - subsequently dubbed by the national press as the "Charge of the Black Brigade" - the crowd, faltering, began to break up and disperse, and within minutes the re-united and reassembled, bloodied but undaunted Blackshirts were able to turn their attention to the clearing of Warwick Street and the relief of their beleaguered HQ.

Here too the crowd was dense, numbering nearly four hundred - a situation Police Sergeant Heritage described as "very ugly" - and as the cavalcade of Blackshirts attempted to march back and forth, cries of "We'll give Moseley a hot time" and "Come on lads, get stuck into them" heralded the outbreak of further violence. Warwick Street - dubbed by the community the "Bond Street of Worthing" - was soon a seething, howling, mass of struggling bodies but in a series of powerful rushes, during which numerous people were knocked to the ground, thrown aside or sent thudding against shop windows, the hefty, disciplined Blackshirts finally began to cut swathes through, and break up, the unruly mob. But not before sustaining several casualties themselves, amongst whom was Sir Oswald, who in trying to gain the door of the HQ received a punch under his left eye and a second to the jaw; an action which spurred a gang of Brighton roughs to press toward him, only to be baulked by those Fascists gathered at the doorway hurrying to rally around their leader...

Robert Poore, meanwhile, an Italian Post Office messenger living at 26, Loder Gardens, when initially confronted himself by Black-shirtecl assailants, had pleaded with them that he "did not understand British;" to which came the sardonic reply that they did not understand Italian, a sarcasm followed by the delivery of several Weighty punches to his head. Sustaining severe facial cuts, he too was removed to hospital. Not one child was hurt, however, the police having had the foresight to order home any amongst the spectators long before any violence threatened. One boy disappointed not to have been present was nine-year-old Clifford Skeet, who had previously overheard his uncles Norman and Edin Williams, both members of the local Territorial "C" Company 4 Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, discussing at the room they shared at their mother's boarding house at 17 West Buildings how they intended to "sort the Blackshirts Out."

With the arrival of more and more police detachments drafted in from outside the Borough, by 11 p.m. the battle of Warwick Street, too, drew to a close. Now, with only sporadic boos and shouts being directed towards the Blackshirts the atmosphere among the crowd quietened - pierced only at one point by an enthusiastic cheer as Police Constables Ridge and Griffin escorted Bernard Mullens, a Chelsea Fascist, to the police station on suspicion of his having taken part in the assault on Robert Poore. There, nursing a damaged right hand himself, Mullens denied the charge, but nevertheless was remanded in custody for a week - unlike the assailant of Captain Budd who, despite the hitter's forceful demands that a charge of assault be made upon him, was merely cautioned to leave Warwick Street and return home.

At the same time a summons was issued against Sir Oswald for assaulting Jack Pritchard of 81 Ham Road, outside the Pavilion, although the Fascist leader protested that he had merely been protecting himself from a "violent rough" who had lunged forward and punched him on the left cheek bone. He had been pushed from behind, retorted Mr. Pritchard, had fallen forward, and it was then he had been thumped. To prevent a second punch he had caught hold of Sir Oswald's sleeve, but had then been the recipient of several more hefty blows from behind. He also denied the allegation levelled at him by Captain Budd that he had confided to a "certain man" that the police were using him as a "pawn in their game," or that if he had been in Sir Oswald's position himself he would have acted to protect himself in a like manner.


(15) The Western Morning News (15th November 1934)

The summons for alleged assault brought against Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, following a disturbance after a Fascist meeting here on October 9, was dismissed to-day. The magistrates reached this decision after further evidence had been called for the defence. The Bench held a consultation, and Mr. A. F. Somerset (the chairman) announced that they were agreed the charge should be dismissed.

Mr. St. John Hutchinson, who appeared for Sir Oswald, asked if he could confine to Warwick-street the remainder of the evidence on the charge of alleged riotous assembly. The Bench said that they could not dissociate one from the other. They had heard sufficient evidence to the trouble around the café.

Sir Oswald and three men were summoned for alleged riotous assembly. The other men were William Joyce, described as director of Fascist propaganda; Capt. Charles Henry Budd, described as Blackshirt officer for West Sussex area: and Bernard Mullans, stated to be a member of the movement. Mullans was also summoned for alleged assault. All men denied the charges. Joyce, in evidence, said that any suggestion that they came down to Worthing to beat up the crowd was ridiculous in the highest degree. They were menaced and insulted by people in the crowd.

Mullans stated that he told Poore that he should be ashamed for using insulting language in the presence of women. Poore hit him in eye, and he (Mullans) then hit him in the mouth. The case was adjourned till tomorrow.

(16) Collin Brooks, diary entry (6th June, 1934)

The advertised time of the great oration was eight o'clock. At 8.45 the searchlights were directed to the far end, the Blackshirts lined the centre corridor - and trumpets braved as a great mass of Union Jacks surmounted by Roman plates passed towards the platform. Everybody thought this was Mosley and stood and cheered and saluted. Only it wasn't Mosley. He came some few minutes later at the head of his chiefs of craft. In consequence the second greeting was an anti-climax. He mounted to the high platform and gave the salute - a figure so high and so remote in that huge place that he looked like a doll from Marks and Spencer's penny bazaar. He then began - and alas the speakers hadn't properly tuned in and every word was mangled. Not that it mattered - for then began the Roman circus. The first interrupter raised his voice to shout some interjection.The mob of storm troopers hurled itself at him. He was battered and biffed and hashed and dragged out - while the tentative sympathisers all about him, many of whom were rolled down and trodden on, grew sick and began to think of escape. From that moment it was a shambles. Free fights all over the show. The Fascist technique is really the most brutal thing I have ever seen, which is saving something. There is no pause to hear what the interrupter is saying: there is no tap on the shoulder and a request to leave quietly: there is only the mass assault. Once a man's arms are pinioned his face is common property to all adjacent punchers...

The breaking of glass off-stage added to the trepidation of old ladies and parsons in the audience who had come to support the 'patriots'. More free fights - more bashing and lashing and kickings - and a steady withdrawal of the ordinary audience. We left With Mosley still speaking and the loud speakers still preventing our hearing a word he said, and by that time the place was half empty. Outside, of course, were the one thousand police expecting more trouble, but I didn't wait to see the aftermath. One of our party had gone there very sympathetic to the fascists and very anti-Red. As we parted he said "My God, if ifs to be a choice between the Reds and these toughs, I'm all for the Reds".

(17) David Low attended one of the public meetings held by the British Union of Fascists in 1936.

Mosley spoke effectively at great length. Delivery excellent, matter reckless. Interruptions began, but no dissenting voice got beyond half a dozen sentences before three or four bullies almost literally jumped on him, bashed him and lugged him out. Two such incidents happened near me. An honest looking blue-eyed student type rose and shouted indignantly "Hitler means war!" whereupon he was given the complete treatment.

(18) Oswald Mosley, Message for British Union Members and Supporters (2nd September, 1939)

We have said a hundred times that if the life of Britain were threatened we would fight again, but I am not offering to fight in the quarrel of Jewish finance in a war from which Britain could withdraw at any moment she likes, with her Empire intact and her people safe. I am now concerned with only two simple facts. This war is no quarrel of the British people, this war is a quarrel of Jewish finance, so to our people I give myself for the winning of peace.

(19) Herbert Morrison, An Autobiography (1960)

During his detention under the 18B regulation, moves to have him released came from all sorts of people and organizations. Some were undoubtedly genuine efforts by those who put the basic principles of British freedom first even if the matter concerned a man with an avowed policy of destroying that freedom, but the majority, I had no doubt, were the efforts of Mosley's class friends and political sympathizers.

And a few of the complaints were doubtless meant to embarrass me personally or to put a spanner in the works of a smoothly- running coalition by rousing political controversy. I noticed with amusement that some critics, who had been vociferous about the ruthless injustice of interning aliens and keeping them interned, now, showed an equally large amount of indignation about my tender-heartedness when the possibility of releasing Mosley from prison was known. It was impossible to please everyone, and in any case placating my critics was of no importance as compared with observing the law and safeguarding the nation.

The crux of the matter was Mosley's health. He had become ill with phlebitis. His doctor was allowed to examine him and he reported that continued imprisonment would jeopardize his life. I did not consider it advisable to accept this without a second opinion. The prison doctors confirmed it. The quandary was whether to free this leading fascist, a sympathizer with Hitler and Mussolini, or whether to risk having a British citizen die in prison without trial. Apart from such a blot on history going back to Magna Charta, martyrdom is a very profound source of strength. I had little doubt that some of the near-fascists in the country would have liked nothing better than that their leader should become a dead martyr. However, my task was to decide what was the right thing to do.

(20) New York Times (November, 1943)

There is little doubt that the people of Britain are worked up over Sir Oswald's release. Early morning trains arriving here from the Midlands carried large numbers of outraged Yorkshire miners representing 140,000 fellow workers. Representatives of 10,000 miners of South Wales also arrived, and a telegram signed in the name of 75,000 Sheffield war workers was sent to Mr Churchill.

(21) Jessica Mitford, letter to San Francisco Chronicle (November, 1943)

Like millions of others in the United Nations and the occupied countries, I have all my life been an opponent of the fascist ideology in whatever form it appears. Because I do not believe that family ties should be allowed to influence a person's convictions I long ago ceased to have any contact with those members of my family who have supported the fascist cause. The release of Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley is a slap in the face of anti-fascists in every country and a direct betrayal of those who have died for the cause of anti- fascism. They should be kept in jail, where they belong.

(22) Francis Beckett, The Guardian (16th August, 2003)

In recent years, there has been an appalling TV biopic portraying Mosley as a heroic figure, their affair as one of history's great love stories, and fascism as a tremendous lark. Lady Diana was interviewed by Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs and by James Naughtie on Today with a level of indulgent respect that neither of these interviewers would have summoned up for a working-class fascist. And four years ago, Jan Dalley's biography whitewashed Lady Diana and her husband.

Like Mosley's biographer Robert Skidelsky before her, Dalley fell for the central post-war Mosley lie: that anti-semitism was confined to his proletarian followers. She repeated uncritically the Mosley version that William Joyce, a leading fascist who broadcast for Hitler during the war, inspired fascist anti-semitism, and that Mosley was "unwise" to let Joyce edit his newspaper. But it was Mosley, not Joyce, who said during the Abyssinian war: "Greater even than the stink of oil is the stink of the Jew." It was Mosley who talked of German Jews as "the sweepings of continental ghettos hired by Jewish financiers". The only difference is: Mosley was rich and well-born; Joyce was proletarian and poor.

It was only after the second world war, when the Holocaust had so discredited anti-semitism that no politician could hope to benefit from it, that Mosley started to express well-bred distaste for his movement's wilder excesses, and to blame people like Joyce. By then Lady Diana was used to the idea that her wealth and social position would cushion her from the consequences of her views. During the war, hundreds of Mosleyites were interned without trial. But while humbler fascists were put in dank prisons and prison camps, and husbands and wives separated, the Mosleys were allocated a little house in the grounds of Holloway prison, where they hired other prisoners to wait on them.

(23) Audrey Gillan, The Day the East End Said "No Pasaran' to Blackshirts (30th September, 2006)

They built barricades from paving stones, timber and overturned lorries. Women threw the contents of chamber pots on to the heads of policemen and children hurled marbles under their horses and burst bags of pepper in front of their noses.

Next Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of the day that Jews, communists, trade unionists, Labour party members, Irish Catholic dockers and the people of the East End of London united in defiance of Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists and refused to let them march through their streets.

Shouting the Spanish civil war slogan "No pasaran" - "They shall not pass" - more than 300,000 people turned back an army of Blackshirts. Their victory over racism and anti-Semitism on Sunday October 4 1936 became known as the Battle of Cable Street and encapsulated the British fight against a fascism that was stomping across Europe.

Mosley planned to send columns of thousands of goose-stepping men throughout the impoverished East End dressed in uniforms that mimicked those of Hitler's Nazis. His target was the large Jewish community.

The Jewish Board of Deputies advised Jews to stay away. The Jewish Chronicle warned: "Jews are urgently warned to keep away from the route of the Blackshirt march and from their meetings.

"Jews who, however innocently, become involved in any possible disorders will be actively helping anti-Semitism and Jew-baiting. Unless you want to help the Jew baiters, keep away."

The Jews did not keep away. Professor Bill Fishman, now 89, who was 15 on the day, was at Gardner's Corner in Aldgate, the entrance to the East End. "There was masses of marching people. Young people, old people, all shouting 'No Pasaran' and 'One two three four five - we want Mosley, dead or alive'," he said. "It was like a massive army gathering, coming from all the side streets. Mosley was supposed to arrive at lunchtime but the hours were passing and he hadn't come. Between 3pm and 3.30 we could see a big army of Blackshirts marching towards the confluence of Commercial Road and Whitechapel Road.

"I pushed myself forward and because I was 6ft I could see Mosley. They were surrounded by an even greater army of police. There was to be this great advance of the police force to get the fascists through. Suddenly, the horses' hooves were flying and the horses were falling down because the young kids were throwing marbles."

Thousands of policemen were sandwiched between the Blackshirts and the anti-fascists. The latter were well organised and through a mole learned that the chief of police had told Mosley that his passage into the East End could be made through Cable Street.

"I heard this loudspeaker say 'They are going to Cable Street'," said Prof Fishman. "Suddenly a barricade was erected there and they put an old lorry in the middle of the road and old mattresses. The people up the top of the flats, mainly Irish Catholic women, were throwing rubbish on to the police. We were all side by side. I was moved to tears to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic dockers standing up to stop Mosley. I shall never forget that as long as I live, how working-class people could get together to oppose the evil of racism."

Max Levitas, now 91, was a message runner and had already been fined £10 in court for his anti-Mosley activities. Two years before Cable Street, the BUF had called a meeting in Hyde Park and in protest Mr Levitas whitewashed Nelson's column, calling people to the park to drown out the fascists. Mr Levitas went on to become a Communist councillor in Stepney.

"I feel proud that I played a major part in stopping Mosley. When we heard that the march was disbanded, there was a hue and cry and the flags were going wild. They did not pass. The chief of police decided that if the march had taken place there would be death on the road - and there would have been," he said.

"It was a victory for ordinary people against racism and anti-Semitism and it should be instilled in the minds of people today. The Battle of Cable Street is a history lesson for us all. People as people must get together and stop racism and anti-Semitism so people can lead an ordinary life and develop their own ideas and religions."

Beatty Orwell, 89, was scared and excited. "People were fighting and a friend of mine was thrown through a plate glass window."

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References

(1) Nicholas Mosley, Rules of the Game: Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosley 1896-1933 (1982) page 1

(2) Robert Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2012)

(3) Oswald Mosley, My Life (1968) page 27

(4) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 38

(5) Nicholas Mosley, Rules of the Game: Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosley 1896-1933 (1982) pages 4-5

(6) Oswald Mosley, My Life (1968) page 57

(7) Robert Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2012)

(8) Oswald Mosley, My Life (1968) page 70

(9) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) pages 67-69

(10) The Harrow Observer (25th October, 1918)

(11) Oswald Mosley, speech (9th August, 1918)

(12) Kenneth Owen Morgan, Consensus and Disunity: The Lloyd George Coalition Government 1918-1922 (1986) page 21

(13) Roy Hattersley, David Lloyd George (2010) page 488

(14) The Harrow Observer (29th November, 1918)

(15) The Harrow Observer (3rd January, 1919)

(16) Robert Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2012)

(17) Jim Wilson, Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe (2011) page 59

(18) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 95

(19) Roy Hattersley, David Lloyd George (2010) page 533

(20) David Lloyd George, speech (9th November 1920)

(21) Oswald Mosley, speech in the House of Commons (20th October, 1920)

(22) The Times (23rd November 1920)

(23) Michael Hopkinson, The Irish War of Independence (2004) page 91

(24) Oswald Mosley, speech in the House of Commons (24th November, 1920)

(25) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 101

(26) Oswald Mosley, letter to the Harrow Conservative Association (15th September, 1922)

(27) Stanley Baldwin, speech at a meeting of Conservative Party members of Parliament (19th October, 1922)

(28) Frederick W. Craig, British General Election Manifestos, 1900-1966 (1970) pages 9-17

(28a) Beatrice Webb, diary entry (8th June, 1923)

(29) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) pages 120-125

(30) David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald (1977) page 283

(31) The Daily Herald (2nd January, 1924)

(32) Robert Shepherd, Westminster: A Biography: From Earliest Times to the Present Day (2012) page 313

(33) Margot Asquith, letter to Oswald Mosley (7th April 1924)

(34) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 130

(35) Egon Ranshofen-Wertheimer, Vorwärts (April, 1924)

(36) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 177

(37)The Daily Mail (25th October 1924)

(38) A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook (1972) page 223

(39) Hugh Thomas, John Strachey (1973) page 46

(40) Oswald Mosley, speech Independent Labour Party conference at Gloucester (April, 1925)

(41) Oswald Mosley, speech at Birmingham (3rd May, 1925)

(42) John Strachey, speech at Birmingham (11th June, 1925)

(43) Westminster Gazette (17th December, 1926)

(44) The Daily Express (8th December, 1926)

(45) The Morning Post (7th December, 1926)

(46) Oswald Mosley, speech at Smethwick (4th December, 1926)

(47) Sir Oswald Mosley Snr., letter to the The Daily Mail (12th April, 1926)

(48) Sir Oswald Mosley Snr., interviewed in the The Daily Express (13th December, 1926)

(49) The Morning Post (21st December, 1926)

(50) Oswald Mosley, speech at Smethwick (21st December, 1926)

(51) Keith Middlemas, The Clydesiders (1968) pages 218-221

(52) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 171

(53) Stuart Ball, Stanley Baldwin : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(54) The Conservative Manifesto: Mr. Stanley Baldwin's Election Address (May, 1929)

(55) The Labour Manifesto: Labour's Appeal to the Nation (May, 1929)

(56) Oswald Mosley, speech at Birmingham (15th May, 1929)

(57) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 339

(58) John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) page viii

(59) Jennie Lee, My Life with Nye (1980) page 75

(60) David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald (1977) page 539

(61) Edmund Dell, A Strange Eventful History: Democratic Socialism in Britain (1999) page 35

(62) Ramsay MacDonald, letter to Walton Newbold (2nd June, 1930)

(63) Philip Snowden Report (1st May, 1930)

(64) Ramsay MacDonald, diary entry (19th May, 1930)

(65) Hugh Dalton, quoting Clement Attlee, in his diary (20th November, 1930)

(66) John Bew, Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee (2016) page 149

(67) Martin Pugh, Speak for Britain: A New History of the Labour Party (2010) page 212

(68) Oswald Mosley, My Life (1968) page 233

(69) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 243

(70) Robert Benewick, The Fascist Movement in Britain (1972) pages 66-67

(71) Martin Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts (2006) page 120

(72) Oswald Mosley, speech at New Party committee meeting (14th May 1931)

(73) The Manchester Guardian (16th May 1931)

(73a) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 284

(73b) Harold Nicholson, letter to Oswald Mosley (20th May, 1932)

(74) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 260

(75) Stephen Dorril, Black Shirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism (2006) pages 187-188

(76) Harold Nicholson, diary entry (6th January, 1932)

(77) Oswald Mosley, The Daily Mail (1st February, 1932)

(78) Julie V. Gottlieb, Femine Fascism: Women in Britain's Fascist Movement (2003) pages 15-25

(79) Martin Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts (2006) page 154

(80) Robert Benewick, The Fascist Movement in Britain (1972) pages 44-45

(81) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 291

(82) Oswald Mosley, speech (1st October, 1932)

(83) Robert Benewick, The Fascist Movement in Britain (1972) page 110

(84) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) page 292

(85) Oswald Mosley, speech (1st October, 1932)

(86) Oswald Mosley, Tomorrow We Live (1938) pages 28-30

John Simkin