Oswald Mosley

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Mosley paying respect to Benito Mussolini in 1936.
Suppress the dissenters
Icon fascism.svg
Bundle of rods
Some of my best friends are Jews.
—Oswald Mosley, using the tried and tested "I'm not racist, I have black friends" trope (see: Friend argument)[1]

Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats in the county of Lancashire (1898–1980) was a British aristocrat who fought in World War I, then got himself involved in politics: first for the Conservatives, then for Labour, and finally as the leader of various groups of thugs, most notably the British Union of Fascists and its successor, the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists. The Beeb has declared him the Worst Briton of the 20th century.[2]

So, how did he show up?[edit]

He was an aristocrat, descendant of prosperous Anglo-Irish landowners, and also had relatives in the British Royal Family.

During World War I, he fought at the Second Battle of Ypres and also at Loos. His experiences on the battlefield would go on to inspire an idealistic desire to end all wars.

He married Lady Cynthia Curzon in 1920. She was herself an aristocrat, a daughter of Lord George Curzon, a former Viceroy of India who at the time was serving as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and was well connected with Tory leaders. In an example of supreme fucking irony, after meeting him for the first time, Curzon described Mosley as having "rather a Jewish appearance".[3]

In 1918, Mosley was elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Harrow. He was the youngest MP to take his seat, the youngest of them all being abstentionist Sinn Feiner Joseph Sweeney.

From the Conservatives to Labour[edit]

Mosley in 1922 as MP

In 1919, a conflict started in Ireland which later came to be known as the Irish War of Independence. Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for War, had an excellent idea: using the Black and Tans, a brutish bunch of thugs who were part of the Royal Irish Constabulary, to terrorize and subdue the Irish population (needless to say, the Irish still hate the Black and Tans after all these years, and with good reason).[4]

Mosley hated both Churchill and the Tans. Consequently, he not only stood up in the House of Commons to criticise the government's policies in Ireland, but ultimately chose to cross the floor, joining the opposition as an independent. Mosley "betrayed no sympathy for the IRA. In one of his early contributions he accepted that ‘in the present state of Ireland one certainly cannot deny the right to shoot a man who, when challenged, refuses to hold up his hands. Anything of that sort is perfectly legitimate.’"[5] However, as the number and scale of unjustifiable atrocities mounted, he came to feel:

...‘that the name of Britain was being disgraced, every rule of good soldierly conduct disregarded, and every decent instinct of humanity outraged’. [...] The root of Mosley’s case against the Black and Tans was that their behaviour undermined the superiority of British imperial rule.[5]

Unfortunately, Mosley's father-in-law, Lord Curzon, was an active participant in the subjugation of Ireland during his tenure as Foreign Secretary, and "proposed vigorous 'Indian measures' to suppress the rebellion."[6] This probably made for some awkward conversations at home.

Oddly enough, Mosley's most ardent acolyte after his turn to fascism was William Joyce (also known as "Lord Haw-Haw"),[7] a man who had been "an ostentatious sympathizer with the Black and Tans as a sixteen-year-old"[5] in Ireland, "and was almost assassinated by the IRA on his way home from school."[8]

Mosley won his seat in both the 1922 and 1923 elections as an independent. However, in 1924, he joined the Labour Party. He lost his seat in the House of Commons that same year after running against Neville Chamberlain in Birmingham, having surmised that the voters of his old constituency, Harrow, were not likely to elect a Labour candidate. Mosley lost to Chamberlain (whose father, Joseph, had been mayor of the city) "by just 77 votes".[9] He eventually returned to parliament in 1926 occupying yet another seat (this one in Smethwick). Meanwhile, he drafted with John Strachey an economic program known as the "Birmingham Proposals," criticizing both classical liberalism and Labourite socialism. They proposed an expansion in production through an increase in demand, which would be met by rises in real wage levels, issues of consumer credits to the unemployed and producers' credits to manufacturers, and nationalization of banking.[10]

Being close to Ramsay MacDonald, Mosley made a bid to advance politically. When Labour returned to power after the 1929 General Election, Mosley wanted one of the Great Offices of State (Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, or Foreign Secretary). Instead, poor Oswald was merely appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a minister without portfolio outside the cabinet, and was directed to draw up a program to combat unemployment.

Out of this came the "Mosley Memorandum," which proposed protectionist high tariffs to protect Britain from international finance, state nationalisation of main industries, and a programme of public works to solve unemployment. It was turned down by the cabinet and the Labour Party Conference, which chose to abide by more traditional economic theories; Macdonald's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, was a "rigidly orthodox head of the Treasury"[11] who vetoed Mosley's suggestions. Mosley subsequently resigned as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and left the Labour Party altogether in 1931.

R. H. S. Crossman, himself a Labourite who entered the cabinet a few years later, would describe the memorandum as "brilliant",[12] and a "whole generation ahead of Labour thinking"[12] (ironically, Crossman was a Zionist and went on to fight against the Nazis during World War II; politics makes strange bedfellows indeed). During the recession which hit the UK in the early 1990s, Conservative Prime Minister John Major apparently consulted Mosley's economic ideas as part of "an unorthodox attempt to revive the British economy".[13]

New Party[edit]

Pink Floyd playing The Wall live [14] BUF poster, 1939
The flag of the British Union of Fascists. Doesn't look like the Nazi flag at all, no siree.
The original flag of the British Union of Fascists, back when the Union was more Italian Fascist than German Nazi.

Feeling bitter, and having alienated himself from pretty much every major political party, Mosley founded The New Party, whose policies were built around the Mosley Memorandum and which was supported by dissident Labour and Conservative politicians such as Aneurin Bevan and Harold Macmillan, as well as the Daily Mail. The New Party's meetings where often disrupted by Labour Party activists who viewed him as a traitor for his departure from the Labour Party and subsequent attacks on its leadership. It was this disruption that spurred him to found a party militia, the "Biff Boys", headed by Peter Howard, the captain of the England Rugby team, and Ted 'Kid' Lewis, the Jewish Boxing Champion. At the 1931 General Election the party did poorly, with many candidates losing their deposit. [15]


Mosley subsequently embarked on a tour of Europe, studying fascist movements such as Italy's Fascist Party and Germany's Nazi Party, where he became convinced that Mussolini's way was the way forward for Britain. The Italian dictator fêted Mosley when he visited Italy, and would go on to donate considerable sums of money to support the activities of the BUF. At one point, Mussolini was donating around £60,000 a year to Mosley in monthly instalments (this would be the equivalent of almost £3,000,000 today). The Italian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Count Dino Grandi, complained about these payments, and wrote to Mussolini. "All this money, believe me, Duce, even on the best supposition simply goes down the drain."[16]

Mosley also met Hitler, who was present as "guest of honour at his second wedding"[17] to Diana Mitford in 1936. The two were married "by special Reich permission at the family home of the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels in Berlin".[18] Mitford was an ardent fascist, while her sister Unity was described as "more Nazi than the Nazis".[19]

As Mosley moved the New Party further towards authoritarianism, it lost many of its supporters. In 1932, determined to unite the existing British fascist movements, he folded it into British Union of Fascists (BUF), which was was protectionist, strongly anti-communist, anti-capitalist, ultranationalistic (practicing an extreme form of British nationalism) and authoritarian-totalitarian. The group's anthem, "Comrades, the Voices of the Dead Battalions", consisted of modified English lyrics from "Horst-Wessel-Lied" (Horst-Wessel Song), the official anthem of the Nazi Party. The group's ideology of what they called British Fascism was largely a mixture of Italian Fascism and German Nazism with local elements added in, complete with a paramilitary wing called the Stewards/Blackshirts (the BUF's answer to their spiritual predecessors, the Italian Blackshirts, and the German Nazi Brownshirts/Sturmabteilung). They also designed a flag based off the Nazi Germany template with a reverse color scheme derived from their country's flag, using the colors of the United Kingdom in the same way that the Nazis used the colors of the German Empire. This consisted of a red background containing the party symbol, the Flash and Circle (a white lightning bolt and outline with a blue circle). This insignia was to the BUF what the Fasces was to the Italian Fascist Party and the Swastika/Hakenkreuz was to the German Nazi Party.

At first the BUF did relatively well, gaining the support of the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Dispatch, all of which were owned by Lord Rothermere. Rothermere would go on to publish an editorial "entitled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts,” lauding Mosley’s aim of bringing Britain “up to date” by following in the footsteps of Europe’s “best governed” nations, Italy and Nazi Germany. The article urged a similar “revival of national strength and spirit.” Following their proprietor’s cue, staff at the paper began showing up for work wearing black shirts."[20] Rothermere even claimed that "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."[21] The Daily Mirror "urged its readers to “Give the Blackshirts a helping hand,” and printed the addresses of Mosley’s local recruiting offices",[20] while the Sunday Dispatch "offered free tickets to Mosley’s rallies, prizes for readers who submitted letters on why they liked the Blackshirts".[20]

Thanks at least in part to such positive publicity, the party was able to boast of having enlisted "between 40,000 and 50,000 members in its first years of existence."[22] However, the BUF was involved in numerous violent confrontations with British Communists and Jews; after their infamous Olympia rally and the Nazi Night of the Long Knives, the party's reputation and fortunes began to decline rapidly. Rothermere also withdrew his support for the BUF after complaints from Jewish readers and advertisers, including Isidore Salmon, a prominent businessman who had succeeded Mosley as MP for Harrow in 1924.[23]

Initially, Mosley claimed that "anti-Semitism forms no part of our policy",[24] prompting the head of the rival Imperial Fascist League, Arthur Leese, to deride the BUF as "Kosher Fascism".[25] However, whether out of genuine conviction or simply a desire for power, Mosley eventually dropped the act, and began giving virulently antisemitic speeches. Mosley's eldest son Nicholas acknowledged that the BUF was "infested with followers who were openly anti-Semitic [...] Even if [...] Mosley had never planned for anti-Semitism to rest at the heart of the fascists’ appeal, and his subsequent exploitation of it was “at least partly political or opportunistic,” he was nonetheless utterly implicated in the crudely anti-Semitic campaign which the BUF officially unleashed in the autumn of 1934. “What they call today the will of the people,” Mosley charged, “is nothing but the organized corruption of press, cinema and parliament … ruled by Jewish finance.”"[26]

The Battle of Cable Street[edit]

Example of British Union of Fascists' anti-Semitic rhetoric a la Nazi Party (from their newspaper The Blackshirt).
The Cable Street Mural, commemorating the anti-fascist counter-protesters

Mosley continued to organise marches, which encouraged the government to pass the Public Order Act 1936, which into effect on 1 January 1937. Amongst other things, the act "banned political uniforms, gave the police added powers to ban marches at will, and strengthened laws against racist abuse."[27] This was "directly"[27] prompted by what came to be known as the Battle of Cable Street,Wikipedia which took place on 4 October 1936. Mosley, at the head of perhaps as many as "5,000 of his uniformed Blackshirts",[28] sought to march his followers through London's East End in order "to mark the fourth anniversary of his party’s formation."[29] However, they were confronted by anywhere "between 100,000 and half a million"[30] counter-protesters - "Jews, Irish dockers, trade unionists, socialists and communists",[31] along with pretty much every other group that Mosley either hated or had offended. Mosley did have "official permission to stage his demonstration"[28] from the government, despite "a 100,000 strong petition urging the Home Secretary to ban the march"[32] which had been drawn up by the Jewish People's Council against Fascism and Anti-Semitism. In order to prevent the march:

Barricades, including a bus and a tram, were used to block Cable Street. Improvised weaponry — sticks, rocks, chair legs, rubbish, rotten vegetables and the contents of chamber potsWikipedia — were readied, and children were deployed to roll marbles under the hooves of the police horses. And the slogan “they shall not pass,” echoing that of the Spanish republicans’ fight against Franco’s coup earlier that summer, was chanted.[31]

Six thousand police officers, "including London’s entire mounted police division, tried to clear the area",[32] and "struck out with extreme brutality."[32] Unfortunately, "the confrontation which took place that day in the East End was not between the fascists and their enemies, but between the police and those who were determined to prevent the Blackshirts from marching."[31] However, the police were ultimately unable to "force a path through the barricaded streets";[28] "Sir Philip Game, the Commissioner of Police, told Mosley to march his troops west from Tower Hill and out of the area."[32] Astonishingly, no one was killed in the fighting which took place that day, but as many as "175 people were injured",[33] and dozens of protestors were arrested. "There were 84 arrests (79 of them anti-fascists, and 13 of those were women). Many received fines, others custodial sentences with hard labour."[34] By comparison, only "five fascists were arrested."[32]

While the Battle of Cable Street has since been portrayed "as a decisive check to fascism [...] “In reality it was nothing of the sort.”"[31] While Mosley had experienced a "humiliating defeat",[32] the incident "did not bring an end to fascist activity in the East End. Quite the opposite. The Blackshirts’ retreat turned out to be a temporary, strategic one. [...] The weekend after Cable Street saw the worst incident of anti-Jewish violence in Britain during the interwar period — the “Pogrom of Mile End” — when 200 Blackshirt youths ran amok in Stepney in the East End, smashing the windows of Jewish shops and homes and throwing an elderly man and young girl through a window. Though less serious, attacks on Jews were also reported in Manchester and Leeds in the north of England.""[31]

Mosley and the BUF "cleverly managed to turn defeat at Cable Street into a propaganda victory of sorts. They portrayed themselves as the innocent party whose rights to free speech had been denied by the “red terror” of “Communist-Jewish violence,” a police who had “openly surrendered to alien mobs,” and “a government that cannot govern.” The Blackshirts ramped up the anti-Semitic content. Mosley held a series of large rallies across the East End (one attracted a crowd of 12,000 people), and membership in the capital jumped by 2,000 — part of a “definite pro-fascist” shift, reported Special Branch. “However laudable the motivation of the Jewish participants that day,” the historian Daniel Tilles has written of Cable Street, “the primary consequence of their actions was to make life significantly worse for their fellow Jews in the East End, with their involvement used to justify the commencement of the most intensive phase of anti-Semitic activity in modern British history.”"[31]

Furthermore, the Public Order Act, which was passed in response to the activities of the BUF, "did not cripple them".[27] There were even suspicions "that the Act was aimed at curbing the activities of the Left as well as the Right."[35] "Not until the Second World War was the BUF really finished off, when fascism abroad became the universal enemy, and the BUF was increasingly viewed publicly as merely a satellite of the Nazis."[27]

As World War II approached, Mosley began an anti-war campaign on the theme of "Mind Britain's Business," which was at first popular enough to regain a measure of support for BUF. After the invasion of Norway and the start of The Blitz, however, the campaign became highly unpopular to the point where Mosley was wounded in an assault related to his antiwar activities. This was not the first time that Mosley was attacked, nor would it be the last. He "was knocked unconscious by demonstrators"[36] in Liverpool in 1937, and faced a similar experience many years later in both London and Manchester when he attempted a political comeback in 1962.[37]

Internment and afterwards[edit]

Mosley in 1968

In 1940, the BUF was officially proscribed, and Mosley, his wife Diana and other prominent British fascists were interned under Defence Regulation 18B.

In 1943, with his political reputation discredited, he was freed from internment. At this time, his public reputation was at a nadir. The Home Office found considerable public hostility to his release, and summed up working-class sentiment as "Mosley is a traitor and a symbol of fascism".[38] Publishers refused to publish him, newsagents such as WH Smiths refused to stock his newspapers, and he was banned from the BBC until 1968.[38] In the aftermath of the war, the fascist movement was unsurprisingly decimated, with all of its leaders except Mosley and Raven Thomson quitting and turning to Roman Catholicism or other pursuits; nonetheless press and police reports indicate that Mosley was received ecstatically by the small cadre of his supporters that remained loyal.[38]

Despite widespread boycotts, after 1945 he was able to publish books via book clubs, and had spent the war refining his ideas by reading ancient Greek philosophy, Spengler's Decline of the West, Goethe's Faust, and modern psychology; his thought integrated socialist ideas about a planned economy and syndicalism with Nietzschean ideas about human potential, and the racism remained. He turned his attention away from the British Empire towards Europe. His political aims were focused in his idea of "Europe a Nation" (a pan-European fascist superstate), and opposition to non-white immigration, in contrast to the pre-World War II British Union of Fascists which was "Britain First" and Britain in general, and viewed Jews as the chief enemy.[38] To this end he founded the National Party of Europe (NPE). This was in contrast to the pro-Empire sentiment of many on the far right, such as the League of Empire Loyalists, which was founded in 1954.

In 1947, the Union Movement was formed out of right-wing book clubs and existing political organisations including the British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women,Wikipedia but it never attracted anything like the attention of his pre-war activities. It was ignored by the media (aside from a few fights with the anti-fascist 43 Group) and largely restricted to London. The Union Movement and its newspaper Union were one of the first organisations to campaign against black immigration, Union inveighing against "work-shy" immigrants. It picked up on growing anti-immigrant feeling in the late 1950s. The Movement was falsely accused of starting the 1958 Notting Hill race riots.Wikipedia[38] It seemed to shy away from direct violence, but defended gangs of Teddy BoysWikipedia who were accused of racial attacks in London, seeking to capitalise on anti-black feeling and racial tension. To build on this, Mosley stood for election in 1959 in nearby North Kensington, receiving 8.5% of the vote.[39]

Mosley moved to Ireland for a time in the 1950s, taking over Clonfert Palace in County Galway in 1951, and later moving to Fermoy in County Cork in 1955; at the same time he travelled extensively in Europe, as well as to South Africa.[39] In 1961, he participated in a immigration debate at the University College London, with a young David Irving as a supporter. He published an autobiography entitled My Life in 1968, which attracted more interest from a media which had long ignored him. In a rather astonishing twist, in a 1971 interview he described Enoch Powell "as a dangerous extremist with an unfortunate choice of inflammatory language"[1] (pot, meet kettle). He also claimed to have "always been on the side of minorities"[1] (unless those minorities happened to be Jewish, or black, or immigrants, or any other group that Mosley disliked, of course).

Mosley died from Parkinson's Disease on 3 December 1980 while living in Orsay in France.

Mosley was a key pioneer in the emergence of Holocaust denial. While not denying the existence of concentration camps, he claimed that they were a necessity to hold a "considerable disaffected population", where problems were caused by lack of supplies due to "incessant bombing" by the Allies with bodies burned in gas chambers due to typhus outbreaks, rather than being created by the Nazis to exterminate people, and sought to discredit pictures taken from places like Buchenwald and Belsen. He also claimed that the Holocaust was to be blamed on the Jews, and that Hitler knew nothing of it. He criticised the Nuremberg trials as "a zoo and a peep show".[40]

See also[edit]

  • Britain First, a far-right political party
  • Enoch Powell, a British politician who is infamous for his "Rivers of Blood" speech
  • Christchurch terrorist attacks, the perpetrator of the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre Australia-born Brenton Harrison Tarrant was influenced heavily by Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF).

External links[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/23/oswald-mosley-holds-court-london-1971
  2. 'Worst' historical Britons list
  3. Skidelsky, Robert (1975). Oswald Mosley. New York: Macmillan. p. 87. ISBN 0-0308-6580-8. 
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Black and Tans.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 https://thedublinreview.com/article/mosley-in-ireland/
  6. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabinetpapers/themes/nationalism-war-independence.htm
  7. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/william-joyce-capture-and-execution
  8. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Lord-Haw-Haw-William-Joyce/
  9. https://historywm.com/articles/the-1924-ladywood-election
  10. Thomas P. Lineman, British Fascism, 1918-39: Parties, Ideology and Culture (2000)
  11. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2002/nov/28/uk.business
  12. 12.0 12.1 Mosley, Diana (1977). A Life of Contrasts: The Autobiography of Diana Mitford Mosley. New York: Times Books. p. 96. ISBN 0-8129-0758-2. 
  13. https://www.ft.com/content/e1bede02-8c0d-11e8-b18d-0181731a0340
  14. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LclCKexMjAs&pp=ygUedGhlIHdhbGwgZWFybHMgY291cnQgMTk4MCBmdWxs
  15. oswaldmosley.net
  16. https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1946/jun/06/british-fascists-subsidies-from-mussolini
  17. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-49405924
  18. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2003/aug/14/guardianobituaries.thefarright
  19. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/aug/13/obituaries.uk
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-britains-nazi-loving-press-baron-made-the-case-for-hitler/
  21. Edelman, Maurice (1966). The "Mirror": a Political History. London: H. Hamilton. p. 26. 
  22. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-96364
  23. https://www.historytoday.com/archive/travels-through-time-blackshirts-vs-lyons
  24. https://www.jta.org/archive/mosley-asserts-anti-semitic-propaganda-forbidden-by-his-organization
  25. Griffiths, Richard (2005). Fascism. London: Continuum. p. 45. ISBN 0-8264-7856-5. 
  26. https://www.timesofisrael.com/britains-near-brush-with-fascism-the-politician-who-rooted-for-hitler/
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/09/21/75-years-ago-when-workers-stopped-fascists-cable-street
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2016/10/4/remembering-the-battle-of-cable-street
  29. https://www.historytoday.com/archive/myth-cable-street
  30. http://www.cablestreet.uk/
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 31.5 Robert Philpot, The true history behind London’s much-lauded anti-fascist Battle of Cable Street. The Times of Israel, 15 Sepetmber 2018.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 32.5 http://www.cablestreet.uk/
  33. https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/News_events/2021/October-2021/Tower-Hamlets-remembers-The-Battle-of-Cable-Street-%E2%80%94-85-years-on.aspx
  34. https://tribunemag.co.uk/2021/10/remembering-the-battle-of-cable-street
  35. https://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/history-from-police-archives/Met6Kt/PublicOrder/poBiaPol.html
  36. https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/nostalgia/day-liverpool-said-no-fascism-23685791
  37. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/31/newsid_2776000/2776295.stm
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 The Guardian of the 'Sacred Flame': The Failed Political Resurrection of Sir Oswald Mosley after 1945. Richard C. Thurlow. Journal of Contemporary History. Vol. 33, No. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp. 241-254 (14 pages)
  39. 39.0 39.1 Mosley in Ireland, Maurice Walsh, The Dublin Review, Spring 2007
  40. Robert Philpot (20 March 2021), "Holocaust denial was already taking root in Britain during WWII, says UK author". Times of Israel.