The United Kingdom has been in an uproar this week over the appearance of BNP leader and MEP Nick Griffin on the BBC television show Question Time. Many believed that Griffin’s appearance on the show was giving the BNP’s policies of restricted immigration and a “Britain for the British” an equal footing with those of the major parties, and in fact, acted as a tacit endorsement of the racism and xenophobia the party espouses.

It’s my opinion that the whole thing as a bit of a blitzkrieg in a beer mug — the English, thankfully, have never taken well to fascism and the ridiculous figures who support it. England’s recent history gives an excellent example of someone who came wearing the black shirts and throwing about Nazi salutes, and who were rather soundly put in their place as a consequence.

Take Oswald Mosley. Mosley, was born, like most of these sorts, to an aristocratic family. Mosley’s family were landowners in Staffordshire and he enjoyed a mostly uneventful childhood. On completion of his schooling, he went to Sandhurst to become an officer, just as World War One broke out. He found himself, however, kicked out after beating the living daylights out of a fellow student after having a prank pulled on him. He was determined to go to war though, but couldn’t seem to get that right either. He either found himself wounded and invalided off the front, crashing aircraft upon his transfer to the RAF or stuck behind a desk.

Once home, he decided to become an MP for the Conservatives before switching to Labour. There he enjoyed some success, but when his plans to solve unemployment during the Great Depression were passed over by PM Ramsay McDonald, he quit. Seeking to continue promote his ideas of corporatism, he formed a new political party known as the New Party, but this was decimated after a General Election was called in 1931.

It was then that Mosley would take a trip to Italy. There he was impressed by the changes Mussolini had made to the country and like a teenager styling himself after his favourite rock star, Mosley took the uniforms, the salutes, the armed thugs and the ideology back home and formed the British Union of Fascists. Admittedly, they did have an awesome logo.

The BUF were never very successful. They would never have any members elected, though there were small pockets of support, drawn by the torches, the banners and the histrionics of a fascist rallies in full flight. They would squander any chance at larger goodwill by quite literally trolling parts of the population, leading marches through predominantly Jewish parts of London. Now, this might have worked elsewhere, but in the decidedly working-class, socialist streets of the East End, marching, toffee-nosed, jackbooted thugs were not received well. In the face of massed opposition from local Jews, Protestants and Catholics, the BUF let the police do their fighting for them, in incidents such as the Battle of Cable Street.

Cable Street marked the high point for Mosley. His connections with fascist movements grew stronger and nowhere else were they stronger than with the Nazis. Mosley was best friends with the Nazi elite, such as Goebbels and even Hitler. Heck, Mosley would even end up marrying Diana Mitford (of the Mitford Sisters, the epitome of upper-class twits, without compare) in Goebbels’ office, with Hitler as a guest. This, of course, did not go well with the English government, which was  racing towards war with Germany and Mosley found himself incarcerated at Holloway prison in May 1940. He was released in 1943, to much protest.

Mosley didn’t play much of a role following World War Two. Shunned from English society, Mosley and his wife would move to the Continent, where he would end up living near fellow Nazi-sympathiser and abdicated King of England, Edward VIII. Mosley died in 1980.

Fascism never took hold in England, it just fizzled out. Just as the BNP will. Nick Griffin will enjoy a brief period of notoriety, only to fade away once his ridiculous, sad policies have come under enough scrutiny. It’s like one of my all-time heroes, Depression-era dustbowl troubadour and political activist Woody Guthrie said…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwcKwGS7OSQ[/youtube]

View our Lessons from History archive.

Peter Fray

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