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 good 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)
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)
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)
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 current leading politiciansincluding Winston Churchill, Herbert Asquith, and Frederick E. Smith. Mosley also became friends 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)
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, he 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)
Oswald Mosley, met Lady Cynthia Curzon, the daughter of George Curzon, the former Conservative Party M.P. and about to become the Viceroy of India, while helping Nancy Astor during her by-election campaign in 1919. It was not until the following year that Cynthia asked her father if she could marry Mosley. Curzon wrote in his diary. "I was seated at my desk with my boxes at 11.15 p.m. when the door opened and Cimmie with her eyes alight and an air of intense excitement came into my room and asked if she might speak to me about something... She had come to ask my permission to wed young Oswald Mosley... I asked if he was gay or sedate. She replied that he had started by flirting a bit with married women but had now (at the age of 23) given that up and was full of ambition and devoted to a political career where every sort of prize awaited him." (16)
The following day Lord Curzon met Mosley for the first time: "The young man Mosley came to see me yesterday evening... Very young, tall, slim, dark, rather a big nose, little black moustache, rather a Jewish appearance... It turns out he is quite independent - has practically severed himself from his father who is a spendthrift... The estate is in the hands of trustees who will give him £8,000-£10,000 a year straight away and he will ultimately have a clear £20,000 p.a. He did not even know that Cimmie was an heiress." Curzon also asked Robert Cecil, who had worked with Mosley, what he thought of him. He replied that he was "keen, able and promising, not in the first flight, but with a good future before him". After this report Curzon commented: "I have done what I could and have no alternative but to give my consent." (17)
Their wedding took place on 11th May 1920 in the Chapel Royal. "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." Mosley had numerous sexual encounters, including relationships with his wife's younger sister Alexandra Metcalfe (1904-1995), and with their stepmother, Grace Curzon (1879-1958). (18)
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." (19)
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." (20)
It has been claimed that in Mosley's early years in Parliament he was on the "progressive side in almost every issue of any importance" and "saw himself as the champion of the young versus the old". He became the President of an organization called "The League of Youth and Social Progress". Mosley argued that his actions were "predetermined by this almost religious conviction - to prevent a recurrence of war". (21)
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. (22)
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". (23)
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." (24)
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. (25)
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". (26)
Mosley 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". (27)
The government was furious with Mosley for making this speech. His father-in-law, George Curzon, was foreign secretary at the time. (28) However, 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. (29)
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." (30)
At a meeting on 14th October, 1922, two younger members of the government, Stanley Baldwin and Leo Amery, urged the Conservative Party to remove David 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. (31)
Oswald Mosley decided to stand in Harrow as an Independent in the 1922 General Election. The Labour and Liberal parties did not 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. (32)
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!" (33)
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. (34)
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." (35)
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". (36)
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. (37)
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... I myself see little difference between the extremes of left and right; I have never seen anything more selfish, jealous and petty - apart from gross and pathetic ignorance - than Labour." She finished her letter by saying she recently visited Italy: "I had a wonderful time with Mussolini who is a really Big Man." (38)
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." (39)
John Scanlon, another member of the ILP, commented: "No sooner had Mr Mosley come into the Party than there began the heartbreaking spectacle of Local Labour Parties stumbling over themselves to secure him as their candidate. At that time there was not a particle of evidence to show that he understood one of the problems in their lives... It was truly an amazing and saddening spectacle to see these working men, inheritors of a party formed by Keir Hardie in the belief that a dignified Democracy could, and should, run its own party, literally prostrate in their worship of the Golden Calf." (40)
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." (41)
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." (42)
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." (43)
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. (44)
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". (45)
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." (46)
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. (47)
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. (48)
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". (49)
Mosley also 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". (50)
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". (51) 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." (52)
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". (53)
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?" (54)
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". (55)
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." (56)
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". (57)
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. (58)
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. (59)
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." (60)
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." (61)
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." (62)
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.
It was hoped that MacDonald would increase government spending in order to reduce unemployment but this did not happen. 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." (63). 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." (64)
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. This surprised some people in the Labour Party. 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." (65)
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." (66)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, was a strong believer in laissez-faire economics and disliked the proposals. (67) 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." (68) 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". (69)
MacDonald recorded in his diary what happened when 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." (70)
Oswald 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". (71) John Bew described Mosley as "handsome... lithe and black and shiny... he looked like a panther but behaved like a hyena". (72)
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. (73)
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 Attlee 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." (74)
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". (75)
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. (76).
Other people who joined the New Party included Cyril Joad (Director of Propaganda), Harold Nicolson (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). Other members included Allan Young and Jack Jones, both former member of the Labour Party, Wilfred Risdon and James Lees-Milne, an architectural historian. (77)
At a committee meeting of the New Party on 14th May 1931, Oswald Mosley urged the formation of a group young men to provide protection at political meetings from other political groups. "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." (78)
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." (79)
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 dissociating herself from Mosley's fascist tendencies. They bickered constantly in public, Cimmie emotional and confused, Mosley ponderously logical and heavily sarcastic." (80)
Harold Nicolson 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." (81)
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 endeavour 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. (82)
The first big test of the New Party was at a by-election at Ashton-under-Lyne on 30th April, 1931. Allan Young, a former member of the Labour Party, was selected as the New Party candidate. Jack Jones, a left-wing orator, was hired to make speeches for the party at £5 a week. He later recalled the important role that Cynthia Mosley played in the campaign: "Cynthia Mosley was both able and willing. With me she must have addressed at least a score of very big outdoor crowds during the campaign, and also scores of 'in our street' talks to women. Whilst others in the first flight were looking important in the presence of reporters, or talking about the holding of the floating Liberal vote, the cornering of the Catholic vote, and preparing their speeches for the well-stewarded big meetings indoors each evening, Cynthia Mosley was out getting the few votes that were got." (83)
Oswald Mosley, who had been ill with pleurisy only became involved six days before the election: "Oswald Mosley... challenges Arthur Henderson to meet him tomorrow in open debate and this stirs the audience to enthusiasm and excitement. Having thus broken the ice, he launches on an emotional oration on the lines that England is not yet dead and that it is for the New Party to save her. He is certainly an impassioned revivalist speaker, striding up and down the rather frail platform with great panther steps and gesticulating with a pointing, and occasionally a stabbing, index; with the result that there was a real enthusiasm towards the end and one had the feeling that 90% of the audience were certainly convinced at the moment." (84)
John Broadbent, the Conservative Party candidate won the election with 12,420 votes. The Labour Party came second with 11,005 and Allan Young a poor third with 4,472. The main impact of the New Party was that it enabled the Conservatives to win a seat from Labour. Mosley decided to change tactics and had a meeting with David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, and suggested that they joined forces against the recently established National Government led by Ramsay MacDonald. Mosley's friend, Robert Bruce Lockhart reported "Tom (Oswald Mosley) has been seeing a good deal of Winston. He claims he will get support from Labour and Conservatives and Lloyd George." (85)
Mosley now realised that he could not be successful on the left. He told Harold Nicolson that the main support for the New Party "which is very encouraging", came from younger Conservatives and was "distinctly Fascist in character". (86) On 23rd July, 1931, John Strachey and Allan Young, resigned from the New Party because they felt that Mosley was "drifting very rapidly back to Toryism." (87) Cyril Joad also left that month "because it (the New Party) was about to subordinate intelligence to muscular bands of young men". (88)
Mosley even considered doing a deal with the National Government. On 1st October, 1931, he admitted to Nicolson that he had a secret meeting with Neville Chamberlain, and that arrangements for a secret deal to get some New Party candidates into the House of Commons. (89) These negotiations ended in failure and Mosley decided that he would be open in portraying the New Party as a Fascist organisation. Richard T. Griffiths has pointed out that the main reason he was moving towards Fascism "was because help of any kind was important, and more help was likely from the Right." (90)
During the 1931 General Election Mosley held large open-meetings all over England. James Lees-Milne, one of the New Party candidates, commented later: "He brooked no argument, would accept no advice. He had in him the stuff of which zealots are made. The posturing, the grimacing, the switching on and off of those gleaming teeth, and the overall swashbuckling... were more likely to appeal to Mayfair flappers than to sway indigent workers." (91) Mosley made it clear the the New Party had "purged the party of all associations with Socialism". (92)
The New Party fielded 25 candidates in the General Election. Cynthia Mosley refused to stand and her husband decided to make use of her personal following and stood instead of her at Stoke-on-Trent. All of its resources were concentrated in seats held by the Labour Party. Only a few weeks before the election, Mosley announced it was committed to the corporate state. Its newspaper, pointed out that though inspired by the Fascist movement it wanted British answers "framed to accord with the character and high experience of this race". It went on to argue the policies would be "within the framework of the Corporate State, we wish to give the fullest possible expansion to individual development and enjoyment". Finally it announced that it planned to form a special defence corps." (93)
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". (94)
In December, 1931, Harold Harmsworth, 1st Lord Rothermere, the press baron, whose newspapers had been especially hostile to the New Party during the election, had a meeting with Mosley. According to Mosley's son, Nicholas Mosley, Rothermere told him that he was prepared to put the Harmsworth press at his disposal if he succeeded in organising a disciplined Fascist movement from the remnants of the New Party. (95) The details of this meeting was recorded in his diary by Mosley's close friend, Harold Nicolson. (96)
It was very important to Rothermere that this new party would target working-class voters in order that it would help the fortunes of the Conservative Party. Cynthia Mosley 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 dissociating herself from Mosley's fascist tendencies. They bickered constantly in public, Cimmie emotional and confused, Mosley ponderously logical and heavily sarcastic." (97)
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." (98)
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". (99)
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 Mussolini had done it Italy. (100)
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. (101)
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. (102)
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". (103)
The British Union of Fascists (BUF) was formally launched on 1st October, 1932. It originally had only 32 members and 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." (104)
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 the names or numbers of members but the press estimated a maximum number of 35,000. (105)
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." (106)
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." (107)
Mosley began to argue for the corporate state: "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." (108)
Cynthia Mosley remained a member of the British Union of Fascists but was not a strong believer in fascism. She was also in bad health. Harold Nicolson wrote: "Cimmie (Cynthia) comes to see me. She has not been well. She faints. She even faints in bed. She talks about Tom (Oswald) and Fascismo. She really does care for the working-classes and loathes all forms of reaction." (109)
Cynthia, the mother of two children (Elisabeth and Nicholas), had a difficult pregnancy with a third child. Nicolson once again wrote about the situation: "Cimmie has been very ill. She has kidney trouble and they want to do a caesarean operation. Unfortunately the child is too young to survive and Climmie wants to hang on for a fortnight. Tom (Oswald) is faced with the awful dilemma of sacrificing his baby or his wife." (110)
Michael Mosley was born on 25th April 1932. After a long convalescence Cynthia's health gradually recovered. In April 1933 she agreed to accompany her husband to visit Benito Mussolini. They all appeared together on the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia, and made the fascist salute in one of the very rare occasions when she publicly showed any sympathy with fascism." (111)
On her return to London she was again taken ill and was rushed to hospital to have her appendix removed. The operation was successful but two days later, on 16th May, 1933, she died of peritonitis. Oswald Mosley was completely shattered by Cynthia's death but according to his friends it intensified his political beliefs and made him even more committed to fascism: "He now regards his movement as a memorial to Cimmie and is prepared willingly to die for it." (112)
In a speech made in March, 1933, Mosley outlined his fascist beliefs: "The Fascist principle is private freedom and public service. That imposes upon us, in our public life, and in our attitude towards other men, a certain discipline and a certain restraint; but in our public life alone; and I should argue very strongly indeed that the only way to have private freedom was by a public organisation which brought some order out of the economic chaos which exists in the world today, and that such public organisation can only be secured by the methods of authority and of discipline which are inherent in Fascism." (113)
Mosley began to openly question democracy. He quoted approvingly the words of George Bernard Shaw: "What is the historical function of Parliament in this country? It is to prevent the Government from governing. It has never had any other purpose... Bit by bit it broke the feudal Monarchy; it broke the Church; and finally it even broke the country gentleman. Then, having broken everything that could govern the country, it left us at the mercy of our private commercial capitalists and landowners. Since then we have been governed from outside Parliament, first by our own employers, and of late by the financiers of all nations and races." (114)
Mosley believed the House of Commons tamed those who wished to change society: "Many a good revolutionary has arrived at Westminster roaring like a lion, only a few months later to be cooing as the tame dove of his opponent. The bar, the smoking room, the lobby, the dinner tables of his constituents' enemies, and the atmosphere of the best club in the country, very quickly rob a people's champion of his vitality and fighting power. Revolutionary movements lose their revolutionary ardour as a result long before they ever reach power, and the warrior of the platform becomes the lap-dog of the lobbies." (115)
Mosley suggested this problem could be dealt with by the introduction of the Corporate State. The government would preside over corporations formed from the employers, trade unions and consumer interests. Within the guidelines of a national plan, these corporations would work out its own policy for wages, prices, conditions of employment, investment and terms of competition. Government would intervene only to settle deadlocks between unions and employers. Strikes would be made illegal.
Mosley's critics on the left argued that his Corporate State would enshrine the freedom of capitalists to exploit a working-class deprived of both its industrial and political weapons. Mosley believed that working-class political parties and unions would not be needed: "In such a system (the Corporate State) there is no place for parties and for politicians. We shall ask the people for a mandate to bring an end the Party system and the Parties. We invite them to enter a new civilisation. Parties and the party game belong to the old civilisation, which has failed." (116)
The January Club was a product of the dinners and functions held by Robert Forgan, a member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) during the autumn of 1933. The chairman of the January Club was Sir John Collings Squire, who claimed that membership was open to anyone who was "in sympathy with the the Fascist movement". Squire's biographer, Patrick J. Howarth, claimed that "They believed that the present democratic system of government in this country must be changed, and although the change was unlikely to come about suddenly, as it had in Italy and Germany, they regarded it as inevitable." (117) The secretary of the January Club was Captain H. W. Luttman-Johnson and it has been argued that "the correspondence between Luttman-Johnson and Mosley leaves no doubt that the January Club was designed as a front organization for the BUF". (118)
The January Club stated that its objectives included: "(i) To bring together men who are interested in modern methods of government. (ii) To provide a platform for leaders of Fascist and Corporate State thought. The club, however, will not formulate any policy of its own. (iii) To enable those who are propagating Fascism to hear the views of those who, while sympathizing with and students of twentieth-century political thought, are not themselves Fascists." (119)
The journalist and novelist, Cecil Roberts, attended one of their first meetings with his friend, Francis Yeats-Brown. He later recalled: The majority appeared to be tentative enquirers like myself. Some of the speeches struck a note of accord in their deprecation of the lassitude of our Government. On invitation I spoke myself, expressing all my pent-up indignation and alarm. Sir John Squire, who was present, an enquirer like myself, repeatedly congratulated me on that speech." (120)
Members of the January Club included Basil Liddell Hart, General Sir Hubert Gough, Wing-Commander Sir Louis Greig, Gentleman Usher to the King George VI, Sir Henry Fairfax-Lucy, Sir Philip Magnus-Allcroft MP, Sir Thomas Moore and Ralph Blumenfeld, the editor of the Daily Express. (121)
The January Club included prominent Jewish political figures. This included Henry Mond (2nd Lord Melchett), the former Conservative Party MP for Liverpool East Toxteth, Sir Philip Montefiore Magnus-Alcroft, the political biographer, and Major Harry Nathan, the Liberal Party MP for Bethnal Green, and a contender for the presidency of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. (122)
Speakers at January Club meetings included Mary Allen, the commander of the Women's Police Service since 1920, William Joyce, Muriel Innes Currey, Alexander Raven Thomson and Air Commodore John Adrian Chamier. (123) Richard C. Thurlow has pointed out that the January Club, was part of the "considerable hidden history of British fascism." (124)
The most important member of the January Club was the newspaper baron, Harold Harmsworth, the 1st Lord Rothermere. According to S. J. Taylor, the author of The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere and the Daily Mail (1996), as early as 1931, Rothermere was offering to place "the whole of the Harmsworth press at Mosley's disposal". Rothermere believed that Mosley and his fledgling Fascists represented "sound, commonplace, Conservative doctrine". Inspired by "loyalty to the throne and love of country", they were little more than an energetic wing of the Conservative Party". (125)
Stephen Dorril has explained that the men who established the January Club later admitted that its main objective was to provide a platform for Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF). (126) "At a conference in the Home Office in November 1933 attended by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, two officers of MI5 and a superintendent from Special Branch, it was decided that information should be systematically collected on fascism in the United Kingdom." (127) These reports from MI5 pointed out that the January Club was "a powerhouse for the development of Fascist culture" and "it brought fascism to the notice of large numbers of people who would have considered it much less favourably otherwise." (128)
After the 1933 General Election, Chancellor Adolf Hitler proposed an Enabling Bill that would give him dictatorial powers. Such an act needed three-quarters of the members of the Reichstag to vote in its favour. All the active members of the Communist Party, were in prison, in hiding, or had left the country (an estimated 60,000 people left Germany during the first few weeks after the election). This was also true of most of the leaders of the other left-wing party, Social Democrat Party (SDP). However, Hitler still needed the support of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP) to pass this legislation. Hitler therefore offered the BVP a deal: vote for the bill and the Nazi government would guarantee the rights of the Catholic Church. The BVP agreed and when the vote was taken on 24th March, 1933, only 94 members of the SDP voted against the Enabling Bill. (129)
Soon afterwards the Communist Party and the Social Democrat Party became banned organisations. Party activists still in the country were arrested. A month later Hitler announced that the Catholic Centre Party, the Nationalist Party and all other political parties other than the NSDAP were illegal, and by the end of 1933 over 150,000 political prisoners were in concentration camps. Hitler was aware that people have a great fear of the unknown, and if prisoners were released, they were warned that if they told anyone of their experiences they would be sent back to the camp. (130)
Lord Rothermere produced a series of articles acclaiming the new regime. The most famous of these was on the 10th July when he told readers that he "confidently expected" great things of the Nazi regime. He also criticized other newspapers for "its obsession with Nazi violence and racialism", and assured his readers that any such deeds would be "submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing on Germany." He pointed out that those criticizing Hitler were on the left of the political spectrum. (131)
Hitler acknowledged this help by writing to Rothermere: "I should like to express the appreciation of countless Germans, who regard me as their spokesman, for the wise and beneficial public support which you have given to a policy that we all hope will contribute to the enduring pacification of Europe. Just as we are fanatically determined to defend ourselves against attack, so do we reject the idea of taking the initiative in bringing about a war. I am convinced that no one who fought in the front trenches during the world war, no matter in what European country, desires another conflict." (132) In another article Lord Rothermere called for Hitler to be given back land in Africa that had been taken as a result of the Versailles Treaty. (133)
At an election meeting in Broadwater on 16th October 1933, Charles Bentinck Budd revealed he had recently met Sir Oswald Mosley and had been convinced by his political arguments and was now a member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Budd added that if he was elected to the local council "you will probably see me walking about in a black shirt". (134)
Budd won the contest and 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". A few days later Mosley announced that Budd was the BUF Administration Officer for Sussex. Budd also caused uproar by wearing his black shirt to council meetings. (135)
On Friday 1st December 1933, the BUF held its first public meeting in Worthing in the Old Town Hall. According to one source: "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." (136)
Budd reported that over 150 people in Worthing had joined the British Union of Fascists. Some of the new members were former communists but the greatest intake had come from increasingly disaffected Conservatives. The Weekly Fascist News described the growth in membership as "phenomenal" as a few months ago members could be counted on one's fingers, and now "hundreds of young men and women -.together with the many leading citizens of the town - now participated in its activities". (137)
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." (138)
Harold Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere, the press baron, was a great supporter of Adolf Hitler. According to James Pool, the author of Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979): "Shortly after the Nazis' sweeping victory in the election of September 14, 1930, Rothermere went to Munich to have a long talk with Hitler, and ten days after the election wrote an article discussing the significance of the National Socialists' triumph. The article drew attention throughout England and the Continent because it urged acceptance of the Nazis as a bulwark against Communism... Rothermere continued to say that if it were not for the Nazis, the Communists might have gained the majority in the Reichstag." (139)
Louis P. Lochner, argues in his book, Tycoons and Tyrant: German Industry from Hitler to Adenauer (1954) that Lord Rothermere provided funds to Hitler via Ernst Hanfstaengel. When Hitler became Chancellor on 30th January 1933, Rothermere produced a series of articles acclaiming the new regime. "I urge all British young men and women to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime in Germany. They must not be misled by the misrepresentations of its opponents. The most spiteful distracters of the Nazis are to be found in precisely the same sections of the British public and press as are most vehement in their praises of the Soviet regime in Russia." (140)
George Ward Price, the Daily Mail's foreign correspondent developed a very close relationship with Adolf Hitler. According to the German historian, Hans-Adolf Jacobsen: "The famous special correspondent of the London Daily Mail, Ward Price, was welcomed to interviews in the Reich Chancellery in a more privileged way than all other foreign journalists, particularly when foreign countries had once more been brusqued by a decision of German foreign policy. His paper supported Hitler more strongly and more constantly than any other newspaper outside Germany." (141)
Franklin Reid Gannon, the author of The British Press and Germany (1971), has claimed that Hitler regarded him as "the only foreign journalist who reported him without prejudice". (142) In his autobiography, Extra-Special Correspondent (1957), Ward Price defended himself against the charge he was a fascist by claiming: "I reported Hitler's statements accurately, leaving British newspaper readers to form their own opinions of their worth." (143)
Lord Rothermere also gave full support to Oswald Mosley and the National Union of Fascists. He 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." (144)
David Low, a cartoonist employed by the Evening Standard, made several attacks on Rothermere's links to the fascist movement. In January 1934, he drew a cartoon showing Rothermere as a nanny giving a Nazi salute and saying "we need men of action such as they have in Italy and Germany who are leading their countries triumphantly out of the slump... blah... blah... blah... blah." The child in the pram is saying "But what have they got in their other hands, nanny?" Hitler and Mussolini are hiding the true records of their periods in government. Hitler's card includes, "Hitler's Germany: Estimated Unemployed: 6,000,000. Fall in trade under Hitler (9 months) £35,000,000. Burden of taxes up several times over. Wages down 20%." (145)
Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the Evening Standard, was a close friend and business partner of Lord Rothermere, and refused to allow the original cartoon to be published. At the time, Rothermere controlled forty-nine per cent of the shares. Low was told by one of Beaverbrook's men: "Dog doesn't eat dog. It isn't done." Low commented that it was said as "though he were giving me a moral adage instead of a thieves' wisecrack." He was forced to make the nanny unrecgnisable as Rothermere and had to change the name on her dress from the Daily Mail to the Daily Shirt. (146)
The Daily Mail continued to give its support to the fascists. Lord Rothermere allowed fellow member of the January Club, Sir Thomas Moore, the Conservative Party MP for Ayr Burghs, to publish pro-fascist articles in his newspaper. Moore described the BUF as being "largely derived from the Conservative Party". He added "surely there cannot be any fundamental difference of outlook between the Blackshirts and their parents, the Conservatives?" (147)
In April 1934, The Daily Mail published an article by Randolph Churchill that praised a speech that Mosley made in Leeds: "Sir Oswald's peroration was one of the most magnificent feats of oratory I have ever heard. The audience which had listened with close attention to his reasoned arguments were swept away in spontaneous reiterated bursts of applause." (148)
The London Evening News, another newspaper owned by Harold Harmsworth, 1st 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. Rothermere's , 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. (149)
David Low was one of those who attended the meeting at the Royal Albert Hall: "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." (150)
Nicholas Mosley pointed out that his father was an outstanding communicator: "He had an amazing memory for figures. He liked to be challenged by hecklers, because he felt confident in his powers of repartee. But above all what held his audiences and almost physically lifted them were those mysterious rhythms and cadences which a mob orator uses and which, combined with primitively emotive words, play upon people's minds like music. This power that Oswald Mosley had with words did not always, in the long run, work to his advantage. There were times when his audience was being lifted but he himself was being lulled into thinking the reaction more substantial than it was. After the enthusiasm had worn off like the effects of a drug an audience was apt to find itself feeling rather empty. (In the same way his girlfriends, one of them (Georgia Sitwell) once said, would feel somewhat ashamed after having been seduced.)" (151)
Oswald Mosley decided to hold a large British Union of Fascists rally at Olympia on 7th June. Soon after the meeting was announced, The Daily Worker issued a statement declaring that the Communist Party of Great Britain intended to demonstrate against Mosley by organized heckling inside the meeting and by a mass demonstration outside the hall. (152)
The CPGB did what it could to disrupt the meeting. As Robert Benewick, the author of The Fascist Movement in Britain (1972) pointed out: "They (the CPGB) printed illegal tickets. Groups of hecklers were stationed at strategic points inside the meeting, and Press interviews with their members were organized outside. First-aid stations were set up in near-by houses, and there were the inevitable parades, banners, placards and slogans. It was unlikely that weapons were officially authorized but this would not have prevented anyone from carrying them." (153) In fact, Philip Toynbee later admitted that he and Esmond Romilly both took knuckle-dusters to the meeting. (154)
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?" (155)
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 (Mosley) 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". (156)
Several members of the Conservative Party were in the audience. Geoffrey Lloyd pointed out that Mosley stopped speaking at once for the most trivial interruptions, although he had a battery of twenty-four loud-speakers. The interrupters were then attacked by ten to twenty stewards. Mosley's claim that he was defending the right of freedom was "pure humbug" and his tactics were calculated to provide an "apparent excuse" for violence. (157) William Anstruther-Gray, the MP for North Lanark, agreed with Lloyd: "Frankly if anybody had told me an hour before the meeting at Olympia that I should find myself on the side of the Communist interrupters, I would have called him a liar." (158)
However, George Ward Price, of The Daily Mail disagreed and put all the blame on the demonstrators: "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." (159)
In the debate that took place in the House of Commons on the BUF rally, several Tory MPs defended Mosley. Michael Beaumont by admitting that he was an "anti-democrat and an avowed admirer of Fascism in other countries" and from what he observed inside the meeting, no one there "got anything more than he deserved". (160) Tom Howard, the MP for Islington South, admired Mosley for his determination to maintain the right of free speech. He was also worried that the BUF were taking members from the Tories: "The tens of thousands of young men who had joined the Blackshirts... are the best element of the country". (161)
Clement Attlee, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, claimed to have evidence to demonstrate that the Blackshirts used "plain-clothes inciters to disorder" at their meetings and that the Blackshirts used deliberate incitement as an excuse for force. (162) Walter Citrine, the General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, demanded an end to "the drilling and arming of civilian sections of the community" and deplored the inactivity of the police and the courts in dealing with the British Union of Fascists." (163)
Stanley Baldwin, the prime minister, admitted that there were similarities between the Conservative Party and the British Union of Fascists but because of its "ultramontane Conservatism... it takes many of the tenets of our own party and pushes them to a conclusion which, if given effect to, would, I believe, be disastrous to our country." (164) The government rejected a proposal for a public inquiry into the violence at the Olympia meeting but the Home Secretary gave several hints on the possibility of legislation that would help prevent trouble at political meetings. (165)
In July, 1934 Lord Rothermere suddenly withdrew his support from Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. 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 pro-fascist 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 counter-measures." (166)
Vernon Kell, of MI5, reported to the Home Office that the rally at Olympia appeared to have had a negative impact on the future of the British 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." (167)
Oswald Mosley had developed a large following in Sussex after the election of Charles Bentinck Budd, the fascists only councillor. Budd arranged for Mosley and William Joyce to address a meeting at the Worthing Pavilion Theatre on 9th October, 1934. The British Union of Fascists covered the town with posters with the words "Mosley Speaks", but during the night someone had altered the posters to read "Gasbag Mosley Speaks Tripe". It was later discovered that this had been done by Roy Nicholls, the chairman of the Young Socialists. (168)
The venue was packed with fascist supporters from Sussex. According to Michael Payne: "Finally the curtain rose to reveal Sir Oswald himself standing alone on the stage. Clad entirely in black, the great silver belt buckle gleaming, the right arm raised in the Fascist salute, he was spell-bindingly 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." (169)
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?" (170)
At the close of proceedings Mosley and Joyce, accompanied by a large body of blackshirts, marched along the Esplanade.They were protected by all nineteen available members of the Borough's police force. The crowd of protesters, estimated as around 2,000 people, attempted to block their path. 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!" (171)
The Fascists went into Montague Street in an attempt to get to their headquarters in Anne Street. The author of Storm Tide: Worthing 1933-1939 (2008) has pointed out: "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." (172)
Superintendent Clement Bristow later claimed that a crowd of about 400 people attempted to stop the Blackshirts from getting to their headquarters. 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." (173)
According to The Evening Argus: "The fascists fought their way to Mitchell's Cafe and barricaded themselves inside as opponents smashed windows and threw tomatoes. As midnight loomed, they broke out and marched along South Street to Warwick Street. One woman bystander was punched in the face in what witnesses described as 'guerrilla warfare'. There were casualties on both sides as a 'seething, struggling mass of howling people' became engaged in running battles. People in nightclothes watched in amazement from bedroom windows overlooking the scene." (174)
The next day the police arrested Oswald Mosley, Charles Budd, William Joyce and Bernard Mullans and accused them of "with others unknown they did riotously assemble together against the peace". The court case took place on 14th November 1934. Charles Budd claimed that he telephoned the police three times on the day of the rally to warn them that he believed "trouble" had been planned for the event. A member of the Anti-Fascist New World Fellowship had told him that "we'll get you tonight". Budd had pleaded for police protection but only four men had turned up that night. He argued that there had been a conspiracy against the BUF that involved both the police and the Town Council.
Several witnesses gave evidence in favour of the BUF members. Eric Redwood - a barrister from Chiddingfield, said that the trouble was caused by a gang of "trouble-seeking roughs" and that Budd, Mosley, Joyce and Mullans "acted with admirable restraint". Herbert Tuffnell, a retired District Commissioner of Uganda, also claimed that it was the anti-fascists who started the fighting. (175)
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 claimed that told an anti-fascist demonstrator that he "should be ashamed for using insulting language in the presence of women". The man then hit in the eye and he retaliated by punching the man in the mouth. (176)
John Flowers, the prosecuting council told the jury that "if you come to the conclusion that there was an organised opposition by roughs and communists and others against the Fascists... that this brought about the violence and that the defendants and their followers were protecting themselves against violence, it will not be my duty to ask you to find them guilty." The jury agreed and all the men were found not guilty. (177)
In the early days of the British Union of Fascist, Mosley expressed anti-Semitic comments. On one occasion, the Jewish boxer, Ted "Kid" Lewis (born Solomon Mendeloff), punched Mosley in the face after he admitted to being anti-Semitic. Harold Nicolson advised Mosley against following the policy of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. He argued that an "openly anti-Semitic movement would be counter-productive, in terms of converting public opinion, because of Britain's underlying liberal culture." (178)
Mosley rejected this advice and began to make violent anti-Semitic speeches that received praise from Hitler. Mosley responded by sending Hitler a telegram: "Please receive my greatest thanks for your kind telegram in relation to my speech in Leicester, which was received while I was away from London. I esteem greatly your advice in the midst of our hard struggle. The forces of Jewish corruption must be overcome in all great countries before the future of Europe can be made secure in justice and peace. Our struggle to this end is hard, but our victory is certain." (179)
Mosley decided to develop a long-term electoral strategy of supporting anti-Semitic campaigns in Jewish areas. Of the 350,000 British Jews, about 230,000 lived in London, 150,000 of them in the East End. In October 1935, Mosley had ordered John Becket and A. K. Chesterton to promote anti-Semitism in those places with the highest number of Jews. (180) According to Robert Skidelsky, "Sixty thousand or so Jews were to be found in Stepney; another 20,000 or so in Bethnal Green; with smaller numbers in Hackney, Shoreditch and Bow." (181)
The BUF also became active in other cities with significant Jewish populations, including Manchester (35,000) and Leeds (30,000). This stimulated anti-fascist organisations. In September, 1936, a BUF march to Holbeck Moor, clashed with a hostile demonstration of 20,000 people in which Mosley and many other fascists were attacked and injured by missiles. (182)
In response to complaints from local Jewish residents, the Manchester police attended all fascist meetings and kept notes. However, they decided that BUF meetings were "conducted in a very orderly manner and without giving any cause for objection", and argued that trouble only arose if Jews attended and interrupted the speakers. At a meeting in Manchester in June 1936 Jock Houston referred to Jews as the international enemy, dominating banks and commerce and fomenting war between war between Britain and Germany. However, the Attorney General Donald Somervell, told complainants that no criminal offence had been committed." (183)
In an attempt to increase support for their campaign, the British Union of Fascists announced its attention of marching through the East End on 4th October 1936, wearing their Blackshirt uniforms. Within 48 hours over 77,000 people signed a petition demanding that it should be banned by the government. However, John Simon, the Home Secretary, told a deputation of local mayors that he would not interfere as he did not wish to infringe freedom of speech. Instead he sent a police escort in an attempt to prevent anti-fascist protesters from disrupting the march. (184)
As a result the anti-fascists, adopting the slogan of the Spanish Republicans defending Madrid "They Shall Not Pass" and developed a plan to block Mosley's route. One of the key organisers was Phil Piratin, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and a leading figure in the Stepney Tenants Defence League. Denis Nowell Pritt and other members of the Labour Party also took part in the campaign against the march. So did the Jewish People's Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism. (185)
By 2.00 p.m. on 4th October, 1936, 50,000, people had gathered to prevent the entry of the march into the East End, and something between 100,000 and 300,000 additional protesters waited on the route. Barricades were erected across Cable Street and the police endeavoured to clear a route by making repeated baton charges. (186) One of the demonstrators said that he could see "Mosley - black-shirted himself - marching in front of about 3,000 Blackshirts and a sea of Union Jacks. It was as though he were the commander-in-chief of the army, with the Blackshirts in columns and a mass of police to protect them." (187)
Eventually at 3.40 p.m. Sir Philip Game, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, had to accept defeat and told Mosley that he had to abandon their march and the fascists were escorted out of the area. Max Levitas, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Stepney later pointed out: "It was the solidarity between the Labour Party, the Communist Party and the trade union movement that stopped Mosley's fascists, supported by the police, from marching through Cable Street." (188) William J. Fishman said: "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 fascism." (189)
According to one police report, Mick Clarke, one of the fascist leaders in London told one meeting: "It is about time the British people of the East End knew that London's pogrom is not very far away now. Mosley is coming every night of the week in future to rid East London and by God there is going to be a pogrom." As John Bew has pointed out: "That was not the end of the matter. Labour Party meetings were frequently stormed by fascists over the following months. Stench bombs would be put through a window, doors would be kicked open, and fists would fly." (190)
The Battle of Cable Street forced the government to reconsider its approach to the British Union of Fascists and passed the 1936 Public Order Act. This gave the Home Secretary the power to ban marches in the London area and police chief constables could apply to him for bans elsewhere. The 1936 Public Order Act also made it an offence to wear political uniforms and to use threatening and abusive words. Herbert Morrison of the Labour Party claimed this act "smashed the private army and I believe commenced the undermining of Fascism in this country." (191)
During this period Oswald Mosley was having an affair with Diana Mitford, the daughter of the 2nd Baron Redesdale, one of Mosley's wealthy supporters. Diana and her sister, Unity Mitford, were regular visitors to Nazi Germany. While there they met Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Herman Goering, and other leaders of the Nazi Party. Hitler told newspapers in Germany that Unity was "a perfect specimen of Aryan womanhood". In October 1936, Diana and Mosley were secretly married in the house of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Hitler was one of only six guests at the ceremony. (192)
Oswald Mosley now decided to use democratic methods to take control of the East End of London. In February, 1937, Mosley announced that the British Union of Fascists would be taking part in London's municipal elections the following month. During the campaign BUF candidates attacked Jewish financiers, landlords, shopkeepers and politicians. Mosley also attacked the Labour Party for not solving London's housing problem. The main slogan of the BUF was "Vote British and Save London".
The election results announced on 6th March 1937 revealed that the BUF won only 18% of the votes cast in the seats they were contesting. Mick Clarke and Alexander Raven Thompson did best of all with winning 23% of the vote in Bethnal Green. This was less than half of those of the Labour candidates. The BUF vote mainly came from disillusioned supporters of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party rather than that of Labour. This suggested "that Mosley had as yet made little political headway among the ordinary working-class of East London - dockers, transport men, shipyard workers." (193)
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."
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."
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
That attitude, that philosophic background imposes upon the Fascist certain very clear rules of social conduct, which amount to a detailed challenge to the existing order of things, though we will not go deeply into this detail, beyond showing that these broad principles are susceptible of reduction to detail. For instance, we regard as ridiculous a system in which a man may be fined if he even risks injury to himself by taking a drink after the hour when it is legal to do so, but who, in his public capacity as a greater or lesser public figure, may with complete impunity take action which may threaten the whole structure of the State. If he risks the slightest harm to himself, the whole force of the law is mobilised against him; yet in his public capacity he may threaten the whole life of the Nation: he may threaten the very pillars of the State.
The Fascist principle is private freedom and public service. That imposes upon us, in our public life, and in our attitude towards other men, a certain discipline and a certain restraint; but in our public life alone; and I should argue very strongly indeed that the only way to have private freedom was by a public organisation which brought some order out of the economic chaos which exists in the world today, and that such public organisation can only be secured by the methods of authority and of discipline which are inherent in Fascism.
To return to the philosophic side, however, we find naturally imposed upon the Fascist by his philosophy a certain discipline in his life, an ordered athleticism, as I would call it, and a sense of trust in leadership, a belief in authority, which are alien to other movements. And here we are brought at once into collision with the fundamental tenets of Socialism and Liberalism. Socialism differs, of course, sharply from Liberalism in its conception of economic organisation; but in philosophy I think there are few Socialists or Liberals who would disagree that they really have a common origin if we go back far enough in the Voltaire-Rousseau attitude of life; and above all the latter. Now may I suggest to you the fundamental difference which here arises between Liberalism and Socialism on the one hand, and Fascism on the other? Rousseau, in our view, either made a big mistake, or was much misunderstood. Rousseau said equality. We reply, If you mean equality of opportunity, yes; if you mean equality of man, no. That is an absurdity. I believe personally that if he is properly read, Rousseau meant equality of opportunity, that the main attack of Rousseau was aimed - and rightly aimed - at the decadent system under which he lived. He said, in effect: “It is preposterous that this idle, decadent nobility of France” (as they undoubtedly were at the time) “should claim for themselves privileges which are throttling the life of the nation. Equality of opportunity is a fundamental thing. Let those rule who are fitted to rule. Let no man rule because his grandfather proved himself fitted to rule.” It was a revolt against privilege, an affirmation that the man of talent and of capacity should be the man to conduct the affairs of a great nation. But that doctrine was seized upon by his later disciples as meaning the equality of man, that all men were equal.
From that construction arises the whole fallacy, as we see it. It is a manifest and clear absurdity. One man, in mind and physique, differs immensely from another. It is not a question, as Socialists often say, of moral or spiritual equality. That is a totally different thing. Morally and spiritually, the man who sweeps the floor of a big business may be vastly superior to the manager of that business. But the question is, which man is fitted to do which job. What is the proper function that he has to perform? Some people are good at one thing and some at another. Certainly we eliminate altogether the social class conception from Fascism because that rests upon the chance of heredity; but we do say that certain people are fitted by nature to do certain things, and others are not. And once you adopt that basis of thought, you challenge the whole conception of democracy. You challenge the belief that every question in the world, however complicated, can be settled by anybody, however inexperienced; and indeed viewed in that light, it is a preposterous thing that a technician in Government or in anything else can be instructed by people who look at the subject for about five minutes in the year. If I walked into an engineering shop, watched the engineer doing his job, and then began to tell him how to do it, he would tell me - and rightly - that I was a presumptuous ass. Similarly, that a man who has made no study whatsoever of the country’s problems should be expected to put down his mug of beer upon the counter and walk to the polling booth and give detailed instructions as to how his country is to be governed during the next four years, seems to us a preposterous notion. “All men are equal and all men are equally qualified to pass an opinion upon any subject, as long as it is a subject so complicated as the government of a country:” that is the interpretation placed by Social Democracy upon the writings of Rousseau and that conception is evidently absurd. It is, however, the philosophic basis of the whole democratic system. We therefore challenge that basic conception that all men are equal to adjudicate upon all problems. We take and make our own the equality of opportunity and we stand - and must stand - against the conception of privileged heredity. When a man has proved himself, he may rise to the greatest positions in the land, and our whole educational system must be so devised. But he shall not be at the top just because his father or his grandfather was there before him. And so on the one hand we challenge the privilege of the Right, and on the other hand we challenge the preposterous doctrine of the Left that all men by gift of nature are equal.
Now you may say, and say perhaps with some truth, that these doctrines have been heard before, that this was the basis of Bonapartism, or to go back still further to its origin, was the basis of Caesarism.
It is, of course, true that Fascism has an historic relation to Caesarism, but the modern world differs profoundly from the forms and conditions of the ancient world. Modern organisation is too vast and too complex to rest on any individual alone, however gifted. Modern Caesarism, like all things modern, is collective. The will and talent of the individual alone is replaced by the will and ability of the disciplined thousands who comprise a Fascist movement. Every Blackshirt is an individual cell of a collective Caesarism. The organised will of devoted masses, subject to a voluntary discipline, and inspired by the passionate ideal of national survival, replaces the will to power and a higher order of the individual superman. Nevertheless, this collective Caesarism, armed with the weapons of modern science, stands in the same historic relationship as ancient Caesarism to reaction on the one hand and to anarchy on the other. Caesarism stood against Spartacism on the one hand and the Patrician Senate on the other. That position is as old as the history of the last two thousand years. But they lacked, in those days, the opportunities for constructive achievement which are present today, and the only lesson that we can derive from the previous evidence of this doctrine is simply this, that whenever the world, under the influence of Spartacus drifted to complete collapse and chaos, it was always what Spengler called the “great fact-men” who extracted the world from the resultant chaos and gave mankind very often centuries of peace and of order in a new system and a new stability. And it was done, and it has been done, by modern Fascist movements, “by recognising certain fundamental facts of politics and of philosophy. Again you have a certain wedding of two seemingly conflicting doctrines. We are often accused of taking something from the Right and something from the Left. Well, it is a very sensible thing to borrow from other faiths; to discard what is bad and keep what is good; and directly you get away from the old parliamentary mind, you of course see the wisdom of any such course. And Fascism does, of course, take something from the Right and something from the Left, and to it adds new facts to meet the modern age.
In this new synthesis of Fascism, coming rather nearer to our immediate situation, we find that we take the great principle of stability supported by authority, by order, by discipline, which has been the attribute of the Right, and we marry it to the principle of progress, of dynamic change, which we take from the Left. Conservatism—to call it by the name by which it is known in this country—believes in stability and supports it by its belief in order; but where Conservatism has always failed in the modern world is in its inability to perceive that stability can only be achieved through progress: that a stand-pat resistance to change precipitates the revolutionary situation which Conservatism most fears. On the other hand, the Left has always failed to realise, thanks to their Rousseau complex, that the only way to get progress is to adopt the executive instruments by which alone change is made possible.
We have, therefore, come to this conclusion: that you can only have stability if you are prepared to carry through orderly changes, because to remain stable you must adapt yourselves to the new facts of the new age. On the other hand you can only have the progress, which the Left desires if you adopt the executive instruments of progress, namely, authority, discipline and loyalty, which have always been regarded as belonging only to the Right. By uniting those two principles, we achieve the basis of Fascist faith and Fascist organisation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
Oswald Mosley's power was in his use of words: as a public speaker he could go over the heads of the Labour hierarchy and appeal directly to working class audiences. As soon as he had joined the party he was taken on a speaking tour of the midlands and north: the editor of a Birmingham newspaper wrote - "His power over his audience was amazing; his eloquence made even hardened pressmen gasp". He had learned to speak without notes (a trick he had learned, he wrote, by getting someone to read to him a leading article from The Times and then speaking in reply to it "taking each point seriatim in the order read"). He had an amazing memory for figures. He liked to be challenged by hecklers, because he felt confident in his powers of repartee. But above all what held his audiences and almost physically lifted them were those mysterious rhythms and cadences which a mob orator uses and which, combined with primitively emotive words, play upon people's minds like music.
This power that Oswald Mosley had with words did not always, in the long run, work to his advantage. There were times when his audience was being lifted but he himself was being lulled into thinking the reaction more substantial than it was. After the enthusiasm had worn off like the effects of a drug an audience was apt to find itself feeling rather empty. (In the same way his girlfriends, one of them once said, would feel somewhat ashamed after having been seduced.)
Oswald Mosley never understood the limitations of the power of words. He was apt to think that once a case had been reasonably and passionately stated the cause had been won: that if a difficult question had been parried or skilfully avoided, it had somehow disappeared. He did not see that it was often his very skill in the manipulation of words that made people suspect he might not be quite serious: for what is serious about a person who does such clever tricks with the difference between words and things?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."