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Episode
101

Oswald Mosley & British Fascism

First published on
October 27, 2020
History
-
22
minutes
Great Britain
World War II
World War I
Politics
Hitler

He was called 'probably the best orator in England', and founded The British Union of Fascists.

Learn about the fascinating life of Oswald Mosley, how he brought fascism to Britain, and why it was soundly rejected by the British people.

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Transcript

Alastair Budge:[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Oswald Mosley and British Fascism.

[00:00:30] Now, when you think of fascism in Europe, Britain probably isn’t the first country that comes to mind, the usual suspects being Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco.

[00:00:42] But just before The Second World War there was a growing fascist movement in Britain, led by a charismatic aristocratic Englishman, a man called Oswald Mosley.

[00:00:56] The story of how fascism started in Britain, how it was received by British people, and ultimately how Britain managed to avoid the same fate as Germany, with Hitler, and Italy, with Mussolini, is a fascinating one, and it’s not something that many people know about.

[00:01:14] So, let’s not waste any time, and get stuck right in.

[00:01:19] If we turn the clocks back to 1930, the Great Depression had just hit the United States, Europe was still trying to repair itself after The First World War, The Treaty of Versailles had punished Germany to such an extent that it was struggling with hyperinflation, paving the way for the Nazis to take power, Italy had been fascist since 1922, and of course Russia, or rather the Soviet Union, was a big communist bear lurking to the east of Europe.

[00:01:53] Britain was struggling with high levels of unemployment. 

[00:01:57] Its colonial heyday, the peak of its colonial power, had passed, it had been badly damaged by the Great Depression, and it was struggling to find its place in the modern world.

[00:02:11] British exports had fallen by 50%, and 20% of the British workforce was out of work. 

[00:02:19] Things weren’t looking so rosy for Britain, and one young man sensed an opportunity to start a new chapter in British history.

[00:02:29] That man was Oswald Mosley, who was to end up being voted the worst historical Briton in a list by the BBC.

[00:02:38] On the 16th November 1896 at 47 Hill Street, Mayfair, one of the poshest addresses in London, Oslwald Ernald Mosley was born to an aristocratic English family that traced its roots back to the 12th century.

[00:02:57] He enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attending one of the top schools in the country, joining the army and fighting in the First World War.

[00:03:07] As a young man he reportedly developed a reputation for being rebellious, for questioning the status quo, and for having incredible confidence in his own abilities.

[00:03:20] He was a notorious womaniser, tall, dark and handsome, with a little moustache.

[00:03:27] He married well, to a girl from another aristocratic family, and their wedding was attended by King George, the King of England. 

[00:03:36] So far he was the typical English aristocrat.

[00:03:39] He entered politics in 1918, winning a seat as an MP, and became the youngest member of parliament, aged only 24.

[00:03:49] He soon developed a reputation as a fantastic orator, a great speaker, and could speak for extended periods without any notes.

[00:03:59] When he first entered politics he was a member of the Conservative party, then switched to become an Independent, and then moved over to Labour. 

[00:04:09] Labour won the election of 1929, and Mosley hoped to be given a real position of power within government.

[00:04:18] He wasn’t, but what he was tasked to do was to solve the problem of unemployment in Britain, which as you heard earlier, was at around 20%.

[00:04:29] He proposed something radical, something that had never been done before, but when you hear what it was, it might sound quite familiar.

[00:04:39] Essentially, he proposed that the state take on lots of debt, spend lots of money to create jobs for the unemployed, a sort of national programme of huge public works to get Britain working again.

[00:04:54] This probably sounds familiar because it’s now what almost all governments do when there’s a problem of unemployment.

[00:05:01] Take on debt, raise money, and invest in the country.

[00:05:06] But at the time it was a radical idea. 

[00:05:09] Spend money that you don’t have? That would be reckless and irresponsible, and it certainly wasn’t something that Britain should do.

[00:05:17] With his ideas shunned, and not listened to by his colleagues, he left the Labour party and founded his own new party called, wait for it, The New Party, that appealed to left wing voters with promises to bring back jobs.

[00:05:36] Now, this might sound innocent enough at first, but it was the New Party that was to go on to become The British Union of Fascists, the most famous fascist party in British political history.

[00:05:50] It wasn’t an immediate success. 

[00:05:53] Mosley’s New Party didn’t win any seats at a snap election in 1931, and, disillusioned, Mosley went on a tour of Europe to try to understand and study the new fascist movements that were taking place across Europe.

[00:06:10] He went to Italy and met Mussolini, and to Germany where he was warmly received by Hitler. 

[00:06:17] In Italy he saw how the country had been modernised under Mussolini’s fascist regime, and thought that a lot of lessons could be learned and applied in Britain.

[00:06:28] He didn’t really seem to rate Mussolini as an individual though, calling him “affable but unimpressive”, but he was impressed with what he believed the fascists in Italy had managed to get done.

[00:06:43] He had seen firsthand the way in which fascism was a route to power, and he believed that fascist governments were a lot better at getting things done, and making tough economic decisions that traditional democratic governments, like Britain’s, didn’t want to make.

[00:07:01] In 1933 Mosley returned to Britain, and promptly established the British Union of Fascists, the BUF.

[00:07:12] When the BUF started, its goals were primarily economic, and they weren’t the kind of things that you would probably immediately associate with a fascist government.

[00:07:24] He pledged a huge reinvestment in British industry, and to create jobs for the millions of unemployed up and down the UK. 

[00:07:35] His messaging wasn’t immediately anti-Semitic, and Mosley hadn’t yet displayed any of the anti-Semitic tendencies that were to come.

[00:07:46] Due to the fact that it was proposing primarily economic policies to start with, and because of its charismatic leader, it managed to get some support from the media, and the Daily Mail, which is by the way the most popular newspaper in the UK, was an early supporter.

[00:08:05] However, Mosley didn’t try to hide his admiration for his fellow European fascists, Hitler and Mussolini, and especially as it became clearer and clearer that Hitler was not a very nice man, to put it politely, then public opinion of the British Union of Fascists grew more and more negative.

[00:08:28] After the Night of the Long Knives, in June 1934, where Hitler purged, he murdered, his own men, people in Britain saw that and thought, “well if that’s fascism, we don’t really like the idea of that in Britain”.

[00:08:43] Mosley and the BUF were cut out of the media, they weren’t allowed to appear on the TV or radio, so they had very limited means of getting their message across.

[00:08:55] What this meant was that Mosley would campaign up and down the country, just giving huge numbers of speeches.

[00:09:04] From 1933 to 1937 he averaged 200 speeches per year. 

[00:09:11] Blocked from the airwaves and newspapers, this was his only way of getting his message out, and he continued to develop, to hone, his incredible skills as a public speaker.

[00:09:23] Membership of the British Union of Fascists continued to grow, and at its peak it’s said that it numbered around 50,000.

[00:09:33] They had their own flag, and their own uniform, the blackshirt.

[00:09:38] Members of the BUF developed a reputation for violence, and there would be huge fights at their rallies between members of the blackshirts and anyone who was anti-fascist, from communists to the Jewish population, which Mosley was starting to target.

[00:09:58] This came to a peak on two occasions.

[00:10:02] The first one was at a rally in Olympia, in West London, in June 1934. Mosley had advertised the fact that there was to be a huge rally, and a lot of anti-fascists had managed to get tickets to it, in order to disrupt it. 

[00:10:19] They certainly did disrupt it, but the blackshirts fought back, and the whole rally turned very violent.

[00:10:27] For anyone who might have been thinking that Mosley’s BUF was just interested in creating jobs and improving the life of the average person in Britain, its actions at this rally showed that it certainly wasn’t a very friendly bunch of people.

[00:10:44] Then two years later, in East London, Mosley was scheduled to go on a march through an area of the city with a large Jewish and Irish population, to antagonise them, to cause trouble.

[00:10:59] The BUF’s messaging had become increasingly anti-semitic, they had started to target the British Jewish population, using them as scapegoats for Britain’s economic problems. 

[00:11:12] Perhaps this was because Mosley saw this as a way to change the fate of the BUF - he saw that Hitler’s anti-semitic policies, and scapegoating of the Jewish community, had resonated with a proportion of the German population, and he thought a similar thing could work in Britain. 

[00:11:34] Or was it because he truly believed it? It seems unlikely, as he hadn’t previously displayed any anti-Semitic tendencies

[00:11:44] He was just prepared to do anything to get what he wanted, no matter who got in the way.

[00:11:50] Ultimately, the rationale behind it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that he had started with the same anti-semitic rhetoric that Hitler was using.

[00:12:01] To get back to our story of this second event that really turned Britain away from fascism, Mosley had planned a march through a Jewish area of London, but he was met with fierce resistance from the local Jewish and Irish population, and there was a huge fight between Mosley’s blackshirts and the local population.

[00:12:23] This event has gone down in history as the battle of Cable Street. 

[00:12:30] You can even go to Cable Street today, it’s in East London, and look at the mural commemorating the battle.

[00:12:37] By this time the BUF had lost most of the support that it had enjoyed soon after it was founded. 

[00:12:45] And indeed, the supporters it had gained through its reputation for violence and anti-semitism were not the type of supporters that Mosley wanted - he had originally envisioned it as a reputable political party focussed on rebuilding Britain, but instead he attracted violent, anti-Semitic supporters who not only destroyed any reputation he was hoping to develop for leading a serious political party, but also attracted more, similarly violent and anti-semitic people.

[00:13:20] Not that this is exonerating Mosley in any way, not that it's trying to make an excuse for his behaviour, he was obviously responsible for the vile rhetoric of the British Union of Fascists, but it’s just to say that the BUF turned into an untamable monster that Mosley probably hadn’t envisioned when he created it.

[00:13:44] Indeed, there was such a feeling of public disgust towards the BUF, the views that it was proposing, and the way in which it acted, that a law was passed in 1936 explicitly against extremist political parties, which banned uniforms for political marches, and required police to be present for marches.

[00:14:09] This effectively ended the BUF, cutting off its one opportunity to get its message across.

[00:14:17] When the war started in 1939, and Britain was literally at war with fascists, there was no going back for fascism in Britain, at least at this time. 

[00:14:29] Mosley was put in prison, as he was viewed as a Nazi sympathiser, and someone who could potentially be put in a puppet British government in the event of a Nazi victory, which looked very possible in 1940.

[00:14:46] As we know, luckily the Nazis were defeated, Mosley was released, but he was never to have anywhere near the power and influence that he had in the 1930s.

[00:14:58] One interesting thing about his later life though, which might surprise you, given some of the attitudes of lots of the more right-wing parties in Britain and other European countries towards the European Union, was that he actually formed something called the National Party of Europe, and advocated for one single nation state to rule the whole continent. 

[00:15:22] He didn’t succeed, but it is strange to think now that a fascist leader only 70 years ago was promoting this idea of a union of Europe, when the fascist, or the rightest of the right-wing leaders of Europe currently are frequently calling for the abolition of something that actually does almost exactly what Mosley was wanting, the EU.

[00:15:49] And ever since Oswald Mosley and the BUF, fascism in Britain has never really taken off. 

[00:15:55] From the British National Party to the United Kingdom Independence Party to the English Defence League, there have been attempts to reignite fascist ideas in the country, but none have had anywhere near the success or influence that Mosley had.

[00:16:13] There are evidently many economic, political, and societal explanations for this, but a huge part of the success of the British Union of Fascists is thought to have come from Mosley himself, his magnetism and charisma, and his power as an orator

[00:16:33] In 1940 he was described as "strikingly handsome. He is probably the best orator in England. His personal magnetism is very great".

[00:16:43] He was the respectable face of fascism - well spoken, aristocratic, handsome, and this was one of the main reasons that his fascist message appealed, it was disguised by his fashionable clothes and persuasive tongue, so it almost didn’t matter what he was saying, the way in which he said it was so appealing that he still managed to attract supporters from all over the country.

[00:17:11] What I want to end with though, as I’ve been talking about how he talks quite a lot, is two clips of him speaking, the first is of him speaking as a Labour MP about unemployment.

[00:17:25] So here we go, this is in 1930.

[00:17:33] Interviewer:[00:17:33] Are you going to talk about unemployment today? 

[00:17:40] Oswald Mosley:[00:17:40] Why of course. It is the one problem that really matters today. We live in a period in which politicians are not very popular and believe me, you have my sympathy. Politicians are regarded as people who have learned to talk, but not to act and you demand action.

[00:18:07] And rightly demanded in dealing with unemployment. We live in a period in Britain can only survive by vigour and by action. We have resources of intellect, of energy, of craftsmanship, of skill, second to none in the world, but those resources must be mobilised for a great effort of a united nation. To do that government, and statesman, must take that courage in their hand.

[00:18:49] Alastair Budge:[00:18:49] OK then so that was Oswald Mosley talking about unemployment in 1930. 

[00:18:51] Our second clip is of him at a rally in Manchester. I can’t find the date of this one, but I guess it will be some time between 1934 and 1936. 

[00:19:10] Oswald Mosley:[00:19:10] And now, at long last our men of the war our men of 1914, our grim ranks of our ex servicemen, again and again betrayed by politicians. 

[00:19:22] They join hands with the new youth, the new generation which remembers the mighty past. We say that England is not dead. 

[00:19:32] We say, and I ask you to say with us, lift up your voices in this great meeting in the heart of England. Send to all the world a message, England lives and marches on.

[00:19:51] Alastair Budge:[00:19:51] Quite some transformation, right?

[00:19:54] Ultimately, Mosley introduced Britain to fascism. Without Mosley, and without the BUF, the British people might never have seen fascism up close and personal, but they did, they didn’t like it, and it was convincingly rejected.

[00:20:11] So, in a strange twist of fate, Mosley managed to do more damage to fascism than Mussolini and Hitler put together, and has ensured that Britain has soundly rejected fascism whenever it has come knocking ever since.

[00:20:30] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Oswald Mosley and British Fascism. I hope it’s been an interesting one, and that you’ve learned something new.

[00:20:40] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, whether you’re from a country that has experienced fascist rule, or whether you haven’t.

[00:20:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:58] I can't wait to see what you have to say.

[00:21:01] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:21:07] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]

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Alastair Budge:[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Oswald Mosley and British Fascism.

[00:00:30] Now, when you think of fascism in Europe, Britain probably isn’t the first country that comes to mind, the usual suspects being Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco.

[00:00:42] But just before The Second World War there was a growing fascist movement in Britain, led by a charismatic aristocratic Englishman, a man called Oswald Mosley.

[00:00:56] The story of how fascism started in Britain, how it was received by British people, and ultimately how Britain managed to avoid the same fate as Germany, with Hitler, and Italy, with Mussolini, is a fascinating one, and it’s not something that many people know about.

[00:01:14] So, let’s not waste any time, and get stuck right in.

[00:01:19] If we turn the clocks back to 1930, the Great Depression had just hit the United States, Europe was still trying to repair itself after The First World War, The Treaty of Versailles had punished Germany to such an extent that it was struggling with hyperinflation, paving the way for the Nazis to take power, Italy had been fascist since 1922, and of course Russia, or rather the Soviet Union, was a big communist bear lurking to the east of Europe.

[00:01:53] Britain was struggling with high levels of unemployment. 

[00:01:57] Its colonial heyday, the peak of its colonial power, had passed, it had been badly damaged by the Great Depression, and it was struggling to find its place in the modern world.

[00:02:11] British exports had fallen by 50%, and 20% of the British workforce was out of work. 

[00:02:19] Things weren’t looking so rosy for Britain, and one young man sensed an opportunity to start a new chapter in British history.

[00:02:29] That man was Oswald Mosley, who was to end up being voted the worst historical Briton in a list by the BBC.

[00:02:38] On the 16th November 1896 at 47 Hill Street, Mayfair, one of the poshest addresses in London, Oslwald Ernald Mosley was born to an aristocratic English family that traced its roots back to the 12th century.

[00:02:57] He enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attending one of the top schools in the country, joining the army and fighting in the First World War.

[00:03:07] As a young man he reportedly developed a reputation for being rebellious, for questioning the status quo, and for having incredible confidence in his own abilities.

[00:03:20] He was a notorious womaniser, tall, dark and handsome, with a little moustache.

[00:03:27] He married well, to a girl from another aristocratic family, and their wedding was attended by King George, the King of England. 

[00:03:36] So far he was the typical English aristocrat.

[00:03:39] He entered politics in 1918, winning a seat as an MP, and became the youngest member of parliament, aged only 24.

[00:03:49] He soon developed a reputation as a fantastic orator, a great speaker, and could speak for extended periods without any notes.

[00:03:59] When he first entered politics he was a member of the Conservative party, then switched to become an Independent, and then moved over to Labour. 

[00:04:09] Labour won the election of 1929, and Mosley hoped to be given a real position of power within government.

[00:04:18] He wasn’t, but what he was tasked to do was to solve the problem of unemployment in Britain, which as you heard earlier, was at around 20%.

[00:04:29] He proposed something radical, something that had never been done before, but when you hear what it was, it might sound quite familiar.

[00:04:39] Essentially, he proposed that the state take on lots of debt, spend lots of money to create jobs for the unemployed, a sort of national programme of huge public works to get Britain working again.

[00:04:54] This probably sounds familiar because it’s now what almost all governments do when there’s a problem of unemployment.

[00:05:01] Take on debt, raise money, and invest in the country.

[00:05:06] But at the time it was a radical idea. 

[00:05:09] Spend money that you don’t have? That would be reckless and irresponsible, and it certainly wasn’t something that Britain should do.

[00:05:17] With his ideas shunned, and not listened to by his colleagues, he left the Labour party and founded his own new party called, wait for it, The New Party, that appealed to left wing voters with promises to bring back jobs.

[00:05:36] Now, this might sound innocent enough at first, but it was the New Party that was to go on to become The British Union of Fascists, the most famous fascist party in British political history.

[00:05:50] It wasn’t an immediate success. 

[00:05:53] Mosley’s New Party didn’t win any seats at a snap election in 1931, and, disillusioned, Mosley went on a tour of Europe to try to understand and study the new fascist movements that were taking place across Europe.

[00:06:10] He went to Italy and met Mussolini, and to Germany where he was warmly received by Hitler. 

[00:06:17] In Italy he saw how the country had been modernised under Mussolini’s fascist regime, and thought that a lot of lessons could be learned and applied in Britain.

[00:06:28] He didn’t really seem to rate Mussolini as an individual though, calling him “affable but unimpressive”, but he was impressed with what he believed the fascists in Italy had managed to get done.

[00:06:43] He had seen firsthand the way in which fascism was a route to power, and he believed that fascist governments were a lot better at getting things done, and making tough economic decisions that traditional democratic governments, like Britain’s, didn’t want to make.

[00:07:01] In 1933 Mosley returned to Britain, and promptly established the British Union of Fascists, the BUF.

[00:07:12] When the BUF started, its goals were primarily economic, and they weren’t the kind of things that you would probably immediately associate with a fascist government.

[00:07:24] He pledged a huge reinvestment in British industry, and to create jobs for the millions of unemployed up and down the UK. 

[00:07:35] His messaging wasn’t immediately anti-Semitic, and Mosley hadn’t yet displayed any of the anti-Semitic tendencies that were to come.

[00:07:46] Due to the fact that it was proposing primarily economic policies to start with, and because of its charismatic leader, it managed to get some support from the media, and the Daily Mail, which is by the way the most popular newspaper in the UK, was an early supporter.

[00:08:05] However, Mosley didn’t try to hide his admiration for his fellow European fascists, Hitler and Mussolini, and especially as it became clearer and clearer that Hitler was not a very nice man, to put it politely, then public opinion of the British Union of Fascists grew more and more negative.

[00:08:28] After the Night of the Long Knives, in June 1934, where Hitler purged, he murdered, his own men, people in Britain saw that and thought, “well if that’s fascism, we don’t really like the idea of that in Britain”.

[00:08:43] Mosley and the BUF were cut out of the media, they weren’t allowed to appear on the TV or radio, so they had very limited means of getting their message across.

[00:08:55] What this meant was that Mosley would campaign up and down the country, just giving huge numbers of speeches.

[00:09:04] From 1933 to 1937 he averaged 200 speeches per year. 

[00:09:11] Blocked from the airwaves and newspapers, this was his only way of getting his message out, and he continued to develop, to hone, his incredible skills as a public speaker.

[00:09:23] Membership of the British Union of Fascists continued to grow, and at its peak it’s said that it numbered around 50,000.

[00:09:33] They had their own flag, and their own uniform, the blackshirt.

[00:09:38] Members of the BUF developed a reputation for violence, and there would be huge fights at their rallies between members of the blackshirts and anyone who was anti-fascist, from communists to the Jewish population, which Mosley was starting to target.

[00:09:58] This came to a peak on two occasions.

[00:10:02] The first one was at a rally in Olympia, in West London, in June 1934. Mosley had advertised the fact that there was to be a huge rally, and a lot of anti-fascists had managed to get tickets to it, in order to disrupt it. 

[00:10:19] They certainly did disrupt it, but the blackshirts fought back, and the whole rally turned very violent.

[00:10:27] For anyone who might have been thinking that Mosley’s BUF was just interested in creating jobs and improving the life of the average person in Britain, its actions at this rally showed that it certainly wasn’t a very friendly bunch of people.

[00:10:44] Then two years later, in East London, Mosley was scheduled to go on a march through an area of the city with a large Jewish and Irish population, to antagonise them, to cause trouble.

[00:10:59] The BUF’s messaging had become increasingly anti-semitic, they had started to target the British Jewish population, using them as scapegoats for Britain’s economic problems. 

[00:11:12] Perhaps this was because Mosley saw this as a way to change the fate of the BUF - he saw that Hitler’s anti-semitic policies, and scapegoating of the Jewish community, had resonated with a proportion of the German population, and he thought a similar thing could work in Britain. 

[00:11:34] Or was it because he truly believed it? It seems unlikely, as he hadn’t previously displayed any anti-Semitic tendencies

[00:11:44] He was just prepared to do anything to get what he wanted, no matter who got in the way.

[00:11:50] Ultimately, the rationale behind it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that he had started with the same anti-semitic rhetoric that Hitler was using.

[00:12:01] To get back to our story of this second event that really turned Britain away from fascism, Mosley had planned a march through a Jewish area of London, but he was met with fierce resistance from the local Jewish and Irish population, and there was a huge fight between Mosley’s blackshirts and the local population.

[00:12:23] This event has gone down in history as the battle of Cable Street. 

[00:12:30] You can even go to Cable Street today, it’s in East London, and look at the mural commemorating the battle.

[00:12:37] By this time the BUF had lost most of the support that it had enjoyed soon after it was founded. 

[00:12:45] And indeed, the supporters it had gained through its reputation for violence and anti-semitism were not the type of supporters that Mosley wanted - he had originally envisioned it as a reputable political party focussed on rebuilding Britain, but instead he attracted violent, anti-Semitic supporters who not only destroyed any reputation he was hoping to develop for leading a serious political party, but also attracted more, similarly violent and anti-semitic people.

[00:13:20] Not that this is exonerating Mosley in any way, not that it's trying to make an excuse for his behaviour, he was obviously responsible for the vile rhetoric of the British Union of Fascists, but it’s just to say that the BUF turned into an untamable monster that Mosley probably hadn’t envisioned when he created it.

[00:13:44] Indeed, there was such a feeling of public disgust towards the BUF, the views that it was proposing, and the way in which it acted, that a law was passed in 1936 explicitly against extremist political parties, which banned uniforms for political marches, and required police to be present for marches.

[00:14:09] This effectively ended the BUF, cutting off its one opportunity to get its message across.

[00:14:17] When the war started in 1939, and Britain was literally at war with fascists, there was no going back for fascism in Britain, at least at this time. 

[00:14:29] Mosley was put in prison, as he was viewed as a Nazi sympathiser, and someone who could potentially be put in a puppet British government in the event of a Nazi victory, which looked very possible in 1940.

[00:14:46] As we know, luckily the Nazis were defeated, Mosley was released, but he was never to have anywhere near the power and influence that he had in the 1930s.

[00:14:58] One interesting thing about his later life though, which might surprise you, given some of the attitudes of lots of the more right-wing parties in Britain and other European countries towards the European Union, was that he actually formed something called the National Party of Europe, and advocated for one single nation state to rule the whole continent. 

[00:15:22] He didn’t succeed, but it is strange to think now that a fascist leader only 70 years ago was promoting this idea of a union of Europe, when the fascist, or the rightest of the right-wing leaders of Europe currently are frequently calling for the abolition of something that actually does almost exactly what Mosley was wanting, the EU.

[00:15:49] And ever since Oswald Mosley and the BUF, fascism in Britain has never really taken off. 

[00:15:55] From the British National Party to the United Kingdom Independence Party to the English Defence League, there have been attempts to reignite fascist ideas in the country, but none have had anywhere near the success or influence that Mosley had.

[00:16:13] There are evidently many economic, political, and societal explanations for this, but a huge part of the success of the British Union of Fascists is thought to have come from Mosley himself, his magnetism and charisma, and his power as an orator

[00:16:33] In 1940 he was described as "strikingly handsome. He is probably the best orator in England. His personal magnetism is very great".

[00:16:43] He was the respectable face of fascism - well spoken, aristocratic, handsome, and this was one of the main reasons that his fascist message appealed, it was disguised by his fashionable clothes and persuasive tongue, so it almost didn’t matter what he was saying, the way in which he said it was so appealing that he still managed to attract supporters from all over the country.

[00:17:11] What I want to end with though, as I’ve been talking about how he talks quite a lot, is two clips of him speaking, the first is of him speaking as a Labour MP about unemployment.

[00:17:25] So here we go, this is in 1930.

[00:17:33] Interviewer:[00:17:33] Are you going to talk about unemployment today? 

[00:17:40] Oswald Mosley:[00:17:40] Why of course. It is the one problem that really matters today. We live in a period in which politicians are not very popular and believe me, you have my sympathy. Politicians are regarded as people who have learned to talk, but not to act and you demand action.

[00:18:07] And rightly demanded in dealing with unemployment. We live in a period in Britain can only survive by vigour and by action. We have resources of intellect, of energy, of craftsmanship, of skill, second to none in the world, but those resources must be mobilised for a great effort of a united nation. To do that government, and statesman, must take that courage in their hand.

[00:18:49] Alastair Budge:[00:18:49] OK then so that was Oswald Mosley talking about unemployment in 1930. 

[00:18:51] Our second clip is of him at a rally in Manchester. I can’t find the date of this one, but I guess it will be some time between 1934 and 1936. 

[00:19:10] Oswald Mosley:[00:19:10] And now, at long last our men of the war our men of 1914, our grim ranks of our ex servicemen, again and again betrayed by politicians. 

[00:19:22] They join hands with the new youth, the new generation which remembers the mighty past. We say that England is not dead. 

[00:19:32] We say, and I ask you to say with us, lift up your voices in this great meeting in the heart of England. Send to all the world a message, England lives and marches on.

[00:19:51] Alastair Budge:[00:19:51] Quite some transformation, right?

[00:19:54] Ultimately, Mosley introduced Britain to fascism. Without Mosley, and without the BUF, the British people might never have seen fascism up close and personal, but they did, they didn’t like it, and it was convincingly rejected.

[00:20:11] So, in a strange twist of fate, Mosley managed to do more damage to fascism than Mussolini and Hitler put together, and has ensured that Britain has soundly rejected fascism whenever it has come knocking ever since.

[00:20:30] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Oswald Mosley and British Fascism. I hope it’s been an interesting one, and that you’ve learned something new.

[00:20:40] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, whether you’re from a country that has experienced fascist rule, or whether you haven’t.

[00:20:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:58] I can't wait to see what you have to say.

[00:21:01] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:21:07] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]

Alastair Budge:[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Oswald Mosley and British Fascism.

[00:00:30] Now, when you think of fascism in Europe, Britain probably isn’t the first country that comes to mind, the usual suspects being Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco.

[00:00:42] But just before The Second World War there was a growing fascist movement in Britain, led by a charismatic aristocratic Englishman, a man called Oswald Mosley.

[00:00:56] The story of how fascism started in Britain, how it was received by British people, and ultimately how Britain managed to avoid the same fate as Germany, with Hitler, and Italy, with Mussolini, is a fascinating one, and it’s not something that many people know about.

[00:01:14] So, let’s not waste any time, and get stuck right in.

[00:01:19] If we turn the clocks back to 1930, the Great Depression had just hit the United States, Europe was still trying to repair itself after The First World War, The Treaty of Versailles had punished Germany to such an extent that it was struggling with hyperinflation, paving the way for the Nazis to take power, Italy had been fascist since 1922, and of course Russia, or rather the Soviet Union, was a big communist bear lurking to the east of Europe.

[00:01:53] Britain was struggling with high levels of unemployment. 

[00:01:57] Its colonial heyday, the peak of its colonial power, had passed, it had been badly damaged by the Great Depression, and it was struggling to find its place in the modern world.

[00:02:11] British exports had fallen by 50%, and 20% of the British workforce was out of work. 

[00:02:19] Things weren’t looking so rosy for Britain, and one young man sensed an opportunity to start a new chapter in British history.

[00:02:29] That man was Oswald Mosley, who was to end up being voted the worst historical Briton in a list by the BBC.

[00:02:38] On the 16th November 1896 at 47 Hill Street, Mayfair, one of the poshest addresses in London, Oslwald Ernald Mosley was born to an aristocratic English family that traced its roots back to the 12th century.

[00:02:57] He enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attending one of the top schools in the country, joining the army and fighting in the First World War.

[00:03:07] As a young man he reportedly developed a reputation for being rebellious, for questioning the status quo, and for having incredible confidence in his own abilities.

[00:03:20] He was a notorious womaniser, tall, dark and handsome, with a little moustache.

[00:03:27] He married well, to a girl from another aristocratic family, and their wedding was attended by King George, the King of England. 

[00:03:36] So far he was the typical English aristocrat.

[00:03:39] He entered politics in 1918, winning a seat as an MP, and became the youngest member of parliament, aged only 24.

[00:03:49] He soon developed a reputation as a fantastic orator, a great speaker, and could speak for extended periods without any notes.

[00:03:59] When he first entered politics he was a member of the Conservative party, then switched to become an Independent, and then moved over to Labour. 

[00:04:09] Labour won the election of 1929, and Mosley hoped to be given a real position of power within government.

[00:04:18] He wasn’t, but what he was tasked to do was to solve the problem of unemployment in Britain, which as you heard earlier, was at around 20%.

[00:04:29] He proposed something radical, something that had never been done before, but when you hear what it was, it might sound quite familiar.

[00:04:39] Essentially, he proposed that the state take on lots of debt, spend lots of money to create jobs for the unemployed, a sort of national programme of huge public works to get Britain working again.

[00:04:54] This probably sounds familiar because it’s now what almost all governments do when there’s a problem of unemployment.

[00:05:01] Take on debt, raise money, and invest in the country.

[00:05:06] But at the time it was a radical idea. 

[00:05:09] Spend money that you don’t have? That would be reckless and irresponsible, and it certainly wasn’t something that Britain should do.

[00:05:17] With his ideas shunned, and not listened to by his colleagues, he left the Labour party and founded his own new party called, wait for it, The New Party, that appealed to left wing voters with promises to bring back jobs.

[00:05:36] Now, this might sound innocent enough at first, but it was the New Party that was to go on to become The British Union of Fascists, the most famous fascist party in British political history.

[00:05:50] It wasn’t an immediate success. 

[00:05:53] Mosley’s New Party didn’t win any seats at a snap election in 1931, and, disillusioned, Mosley went on a tour of Europe to try to understand and study the new fascist movements that were taking place across Europe.

[00:06:10] He went to Italy and met Mussolini, and to Germany where he was warmly received by Hitler. 

[00:06:17] In Italy he saw how the country had been modernised under Mussolini’s fascist regime, and thought that a lot of lessons could be learned and applied in Britain.

[00:06:28] He didn’t really seem to rate Mussolini as an individual though, calling him “affable but unimpressive”, but he was impressed with what he believed the fascists in Italy had managed to get done.

[00:06:43] He had seen firsthand the way in which fascism was a route to power, and he believed that fascist governments were a lot better at getting things done, and making tough economic decisions that traditional democratic governments, like Britain’s, didn’t want to make.

[00:07:01] In 1933 Mosley returned to Britain, and promptly established the British Union of Fascists, the BUF.

[00:07:12] When the BUF started, its goals were primarily economic, and they weren’t the kind of things that you would probably immediately associate with a fascist government.

[00:07:24] He pledged a huge reinvestment in British industry, and to create jobs for the millions of unemployed up and down the UK. 

[00:07:35] His messaging wasn’t immediately anti-Semitic, and Mosley hadn’t yet displayed any of the anti-Semitic tendencies that were to come.

[00:07:46] Due to the fact that it was proposing primarily economic policies to start with, and because of its charismatic leader, it managed to get some support from the media, and the Daily Mail, which is by the way the most popular newspaper in the UK, was an early supporter.

[00:08:05] However, Mosley didn’t try to hide his admiration for his fellow European fascists, Hitler and Mussolini, and especially as it became clearer and clearer that Hitler was not a very nice man, to put it politely, then public opinion of the British Union of Fascists grew more and more negative.

[00:08:28] After the Night of the Long Knives, in June 1934, where Hitler purged, he murdered, his own men, people in Britain saw that and thought, “well if that’s fascism, we don’t really like the idea of that in Britain”.

[00:08:43] Mosley and the BUF were cut out of the media, they weren’t allowed to appear on the TV or radio, so they had very limited means of getting their message across.

[00:08:55] What this meant was that Mosley would campaign up and down the country, just giving huge numbers of speeches.

[00:09:04] From 1933 to 1937 he averaged 200 speeches per year. 

[00:09:11] Blocked from the airwaves and newspapers, this was his only way of getting his message out, and he continued to develop, to hone, his incredible skills as a public speaker.

[00:09:23] Membership of the British Union of Fascists continued to grow, and at its peak it’s said that it numbered around 50,000.

[00:09:33] They had their own flag, and their own uniform, the blackshirt.

[00:09:38] Members of the BUF developed a reputation for violence, and there would be huge fights at their rallies between members of the blackshirts and anyone who was anti-fascist, from communists to the Jewish population, which Mosley was starting to target.

[00:09:58] This came to a peak on two occasions.

[00:10:02] The first one was at a rally in Olympia, in West London, in June 1934. Mosley had advertised the fact that there was to be a huge rally, and a lot of anti-fascists had managed to get tickets to it, in order to disrupt it. 

[00:10:19] They certainly did disrupt it, but the blackshirts fought back, and the whole rally turned very violent.

[00:10:27] For anyone who might have been thinking that Mosley’s BUF was just interested in creating jobs and improving the life of the average person in Britain, its actions at this rally showed that it certainly wasn’t a very friendly bunch of people.

[00:10:44] Then two years later, in East London, Mosley was scheduled to go on a march through an area of the city with a large Jewish and Irish population, to antagonise them, to cause trouble.

[00:10:59] The BUF’s messaging had become increasingly anti-semitic, they had started to target the British Jewish population, using them as scapegoats for Britain’s economic problems. 

[00:11:12] Perhaps this was because Mosley saw this as a way to change the fate of the BUF - he saw that Hitler’s anti-semitic policies, and scapegoating of the Jewish community, had resonated with a proportion of the German population, and he thought a similar thing could work in Britain. 

[00:11:34] Or was it because he truly believed it? It seems unlikely, as he hadn’t previously displayed any anti-Semitic tendencies

[00:11:44] He was just prepared to do anything to get what he wanted, no matter who got in the way.

[00:11:50] Ultimately, the rationale behind it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that he had started with the same anti-semitic rhetoric that Hitler was using.

[00:12:01] To get back to our story of this second event that really turned Britain away from fascism, Mosley had planned a march through a Jewish area of London, but he was met with fierce resistance from the local Jewish and Irish population, and there was a huge fight between Mosley’s blackshirts and the local population.

[00:12:23] This event has gone down in history as the battle of Cable Street. 

[00:12:30] You can even go to Cable Street today, it’s in East London, and look at the mural commemorating the battle.

[00:12:37] By this time the BUF had lost most of the support that it had enjoyed soon after it was founded. 

[00:12:45] And indeed, the supporters it had gained through its reputation for violence and anti-semitism were not the type of supporters that Mosley wanted - he had originally envisioned it as a reputable political party focussed on rebuilding Britain, but instead he attracted violent, anti-Semitic supporters who not only destroyed any reputation he was hoping to develop for leading a serious political party, but also attracted more, similarly violent and anti-semitic people.

[00:13:20] Not that this is exonerating Mosley in any way, not that it's trying to make an excuse for his behaviour, he was obviously responsible for the vile rhetoric of the British Union of Fascists, but it’s just to say that the BUF turned into an untamable monster that Mosley probably hadn’t envisioned when he created it.

[00:13:44] Indeed, there was such a feeling of public disgust towards the BUF, the views that it was proposing, and the way in which it acted, that a law was passed in 1936 explicitly against extremist political parties, which banned uniforms for political marches, and required police to be present for marches.

[00:14:09] This effectively ended the BUF, cutting off its one opportunity to get its message across.

[00:14:17] When the war started in 1939, and Britain was literally at war with fascists, there was no going back for fascism in Britain, at least at this time. 

[00:14:29] Mosley was put in prison, as he was viewed as a Nazi sympathiser, and someone who could potentially be put in a puppet British government in the event of a Nazi victory, which looked very possible in 1940.

[00:14:46] As we know, luckily the Nazis were defeated, Mosley was released, but he was never to have anywhere near the power and influence that he had in the 1930s.

[00:14:58] One interesting thing about his later life though, which might surprise you, given some of the attitudes of lots of the more right-wing parties in Britain and other European countries towards the European Union, was that he actually formed something called the National Party of Europe, and advocated for one single nation state to rule the whole continent. 

[00:15:22] He didn’t succeed, but it is strange to think now that a fascist leader only 70 years ago was promoting this idea of a union of Europe, when the fascist, or the rightest of the right-wing leaders of Europe currently are frequently calling for the abolition of something that actually does almost exactly what Mosley was wanting, the EU.

[00:15:49] And ever since Oswald Mosley and the BUF, fascism in Britain has never really taken off. 

[00:15:55] From the British National Party to the United Kingdom Independence Party to the English Defence League, there have been attempts to reignite fascist ideas in the country, but none have had anywhere near the success or influence that Mosley had.

[00:16:13] There are evidently many economic, political, and societal explanations for this, but a huge part of the success of the British Union of Fascists is thought to have come from Mosley himself, his magnetism and charisma, and his power as an orator

[00:16:33] In 1940 he was described as "strikingly handsome. He is probably the best orator in England. His personal magnetism is very great".

[00:16:43] He was the respectable face of fascism - well spoken, aristocratic, handsome, and this was one of the main reasons that his fascist message appealed, it was disguised by his fashionable clothes and persuasive tongue, so it almost didn’t matter what he was saying, the way in which he said it was so appealing that he still managed to attract supporters from all over the country.

[00:17:11] What I want to end with though, as I’ve been talking about how he talks quite a lot, is two clips of him speaking, the first is of him speaking as a Labour MP about unemployment.

[00:17:25] So here we go, this is in 1930.

[00:17:33] Interviewer:[00:17:33] Are you going to talk about unemployment today? 

[00:17:40] Oswald Mosley:[00:17:40] Why of course. It is the one problem that really matters today. We live in a period in which politicians are not very popular and believe me, you have my sympathy. Politicians are regarded as people who have learned to talk, but not to act and you demand action.

[00:18:07] And rightly demanded in dealing with unemployment. We live in a period in Britain can only survive by vigour and by action. We have resources of intellect, of energy, of craftsmanship, of skill, second to none in the world, but those resources must be mobilised for a great effort of a united nation. To do that government, and statesman, must take that courage in their hand.

[00:18:49] Alastair Budge:[00:18:49] OK then so that was Oswald Mosley talking about unemployment in 1930. 

[00:18:51] Our second clip is of him at a rally in Manchester. I can’t find the date of this one, but I guess it will be some time between 1934 and 1936. 

[00:19:10] Oswald Mosley:[00:19:10] And now, at long last our men of the war our men of 1914, our grim ranks of our ex servicemen, again and again betrayed by politicians. 

[00:19:22] They join hands with the new youth, the new generation which remembers the mighty past. We say that England is not dead. 

[00:19:32] We say, and I ask you to say with us, lift up your voices in this great meeting in the heart of England. Send to all the world a message, England lives and marches on.

[00:19:51] Alastair Budge:[00:19:51] Quite some transformation, right?

[00:19:54] Ultimately, Mosley introduced Britain to fascism. Without Mosley, and without the BUF, the British people might never have seen fascism up close and personal, but they did, they didn’t like it, and it was convincingly rejected.

[00:20:11] So, in a strange twist of fate, Mosley managed to do more damage to fascism than Mussolini and Hitler put together, and has ensured that Britain has soundly rejected fascism whenever it has come knocking ever since.

[00:20:30] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Oswald Mosley and British Fascism. I hope it’s been an interesting one, and that you’ve learned something new.

[00:20:40] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, whether you’re from a country that has experienced fascist rule, or whether you haven’t.

[00:20:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:58] I can't wait to see what you have to say.

[00:21:01] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:21:07] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]