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British Union of Fascists

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British Union of Fascists
President Oswald Mosley
Founded 1932
Dissolved 1940
Merger of New Party
Larger part of the British Fascists
Succeeded by Union Movement
Newspaper Action
Paramilitary wing Stewards
Grassroots wing January Club
Ideology Fascism (British)
Anti-semitism (from 1934)
Political position Far-right
International affiliation Fascist International
Colours              Red, White, Blue
Party flag
Politics of United Kingdom
Political parties

The British Union of Fascists was a political party in the United Kingdom formed in 1932 by Oswald Mosley. In 1936, it changed its name to the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists and in 1937 to British Union which existed until 1940 when it was proscribed.


File:Flag of the British Union of Fascists (original).svg
British Union's original flag, a fasces imposed over a blue disc


Oswald Mosley was the youngest elected Conservative MP before crossing the floor in 1922, joining first Labour and, shortly afterwards, the Independent Labour Party. He became a minister in Ramsay MacDonald's Labour government, advising on rising unemployment. In 1930, he issued his 'Mosley Memorandum' which fused protectionism with a proto-Keynesian programme of policies designed to tackle the unemployment problem, and resigned from the party soon after, in early 1931, when the plans were rejected. He immediately formed the New Party, with policies based on his memorandum; but, despite winning 16% of the vote at a by-election in Ashton-under-Lyne in early 1931, the party failed to achieve any electoral success.

Over 1931 the New Party became increasingly influenced by Fascism.[1] The next year, after a January 1932 visit to Benito Mussolini in Italy, Mosley's own conversion to fascism was confirmed. He wound up the New Party in April, but preserved its youth movement, which would form the core of the BUF, intact. He spent the summer that year writing a fascist programme, The Greater Britain, and this formed the basis of policy of the BUF, which was launched in October 1932.[1]

Early success

File:History of British Fascism.png
A flowchart showing the history of the early British fascist movement

The BUF claimed 50,000 members at one point[2] and the Daily Mail was an early supporter, running the headline "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!"[3] The first Director of Propaganda, appointed in February 1933, was Wilfred Risdon, and he was responsible for organising all of Mosley's public meetings. Despite strong resistance from anti-fascists, including the local Jewish community, the Labour Party, the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain, the BUF found a following in the East End of London, where in the London County Council elections of March 1937 it obtained reasonably successful results in Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and Limehouse, polling almost 8,000 votes, although none of its candidates was elected.[4] However, the BUF never stood in a General Election. Having lost the funding of newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere that it previously enjoyed, at the 1935 General Election the party urged voters to abstain, calling for "Fascism Next Time".[5] There never was a "next time", as the next General Election was not held until July 1945, five years after the dissolution of the BUF.

Towards the middle of the 1930s, the BUF's violent clashes with opponents began to alienate some middle-class supporters, and membership decreased. At the Olympia rally in London, in 1934, BUF stewards violently ejected anti-fascist disrupters, with one protester claiming to have lost an eye, and this led the Daily Mail to withdraw its support for the movement. The level of violence shown at the rally shocked many, with the effect of turning neutral parties against the BUF and contributing to anti-fascist support. One observer claimed "I came to the conclusion that Mosley was a political maniac, and that all decent English people must combine to kill his movement."[6]

Later years and legacy

File:Oswald Mosley and Benito Mussolini 1936.jpg
Italy's Duce Benito Mussolini (left) with Leader Oswald Mosley (right) during Mosley's visit to Italy in 1936.

The BUF briefly drew away from mainstream politics and towards antisemitism over 1934-1935 owing to the growing influence of Nazi sympathisers such as William Joyce and John Beckett within the party, which saw the resignation of members such as Dr. Robert Forgan. This resulted in membership dropping to below 8,000 by the end of 1935 and, ultimately, Mosley shifted the party's focus back to mainstream politics. The party continued to clash with anti-fascists, most famously at the Battle of Cable Street in October 1936, when organised anti-fascists prevented the BUF from marching through Cable Street. However, the party later staged other marches through the East End without incident (albeit not on Cable Street itself).

BUF support for Edward VIII and the peace campaign to prevent a second World War saw membership and public support rise once more.[7] The government was sufficiently concerned by the party's growing prominence to pass the Public Order Act 1936, which banned political uniforms and required police consent for political marches.

In 1937, William Joyce and other Nazi sympathisers split from the party to form the National Socialist League, which quickly folded, with most of its members interned. Mosley later denounced Joyce as a traitor and condemned him for his extreme anti-semitism. The historian Stephen Dorril revealed in his book Blackshirts that secret envoys from the Nazis had donated about £50,000 to the BUF.[8]

By 1939, total BUF membership was probably approaching 20,000.[7] In May 1940, the BUF was banned outright by the government and Mosley, along with 740 other fascists, was interned for much of the Second World War. After the war, Mosley made several unsuccessful attempts to return to politics, notably in the Union Movement.


See also: British Fascism
File:Flag of the British Union of Fascists.svg
The Flash and Circle flag of the British Union of Fascists.
File:Flag of the British Union of Fascists (alternate).svg
An alternative BUF flag, often seen alongside the Flash and the Union Flag
File:Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Though the BUF had its own flags, it used the Union Flag alongside them.

Mosley, known to his followers as The Leader, modelled his leadership style on Benito Mussolini and the BUF on Mussolini's National Fascist Party in Italy, including an imitation of the Italian Fascists' black uniforms for members, earning them the nickname "Blackshirts". The BUF was anti-communist and protectionist, and proposed replacing parliamentary democracy with executives elected to represent specific industries, trades or other professional interest groups – a system similar to the corporatism of the Italian fascists. Unlike the Italian system, British fascist corporatism planned to replace the House of Lords with elected executives drawn from major industries, the clergy, and colonies. The House of Commons was to be reduced to allow for a faster, "less factionist" democracy.[9]

The BUF's programme and ideology were outlined in Mosley's Great Britain (1932) and A. Raven Thompson's The Coming Corporate State (1938). Many BUF policies were built on isolationism, prohibiting trade outside an insulated British Empire. Mosley’s system aimed to protect the British economy from the fluctuations of the world market, especially during the Great Depression, and prevent "cheap slave competition from abroad."[9][10]

Relationship with the Suffragettes

In a January 2010 BBC documentary, Mother Was A Blackshirt, James Maw reported on how in 1914 Norah Elam was placed in a Holloway prison cell with Emmeline Pankhurst for her involvement with the Suffragette movement, yet in 1940 she returned to the same prison with Diana Mosley, but this time for her involvement with the fascist movement. Another leading suffragette, Mary Richardson, became head of the women's section of the BUF.

The report described how Elam's fascist philosophy grew from her suffragette experiences, how the British fascist movement became largely driven by women, how they targeted young women from an early age, how the first British fascist movement was founded by a woman, and how the leading lights of the Suffragettes had, with Oswald Mosley, founded the BUF.[11]

Mosley's electoral strategy had been to prepare for the election after 1935, and in 1936 he announced a list of BUF candidates for that election, with Elam nominated to stand for Northampton. Mosley accompanied Elam to Northampton to introduce her to her electorate at a meeting in the Town Hall. At that meeting Mosley announced that "He was glad indeed to have the opportunity of introducing the first candidate, and it killed for all time the suggestion that National Socialism proposed putting British women back into the home, this is simply not true. Mrs Elam, he went on, had fought in the past for women's suffrage ... and was a great example of the emancipation of women in Britain".[12]

In popular culture

  • The Channel 4 television serial Mosley (1998) portrayed the career of Oswald Mosley during his years with the BUF. The four-part series was based on the books Rules of the Game and Beyond the Pale, written by Mosley's son, Nicholas Mosley.[13]
  • In the film It Happened Here, the BUF appears to be the ruling party of German-occupied Britain. A Mosley speech is heard on the radio in the scene before everyone goes to the movies.
Emblem of P.G. Wodehouse's fictional Black Shorts movement, appeared in the television series Jeeves and Wooster.
  • James Herbert's 1996 novel '48 features a protagonist who is hunted by BUF Blackshirts in a devastated London after a biological weapon release in the Second World War. The history of the BUF and Mosley is recapitulated.
  • The BUF is also in Guy Walters' book The Leader (2003), where Mosley is the dictator of Britain in the 1930s.
  • The British humorous writer P. G. Wodehouse satirized the BUF in books and short stories. The BUF was satirized as "The Black Shorts" (shorts being worn as all the best shirt colours were already taken) and their leader was Roderick Spode, owner of a ladies' underwear shop.
  • The British novelist Nancy Mitford satirized the BUF and Mosley in Wigs on the Green, initially published in 1935 and republished in 2010. Diana Mitford, the author's sister, had been romantically involved with Mosley since 1932.
  • The BUF and Mosley are featured heavily in the 2010 BBC version of Upstairs, Downstairs where two of the characters are BUF supporters.
  • C.J. Samson's 2012 novel, "Dominion", has Sir Oswald Mosley as Home Secretary in a 'post-Dunkirk peace with Germany alternate history thriller' set in 1952. Lord Beaverbrook is Prime Minister of an authoritarian coalition government. Blackshirts tend to be auxiliary policemen.
  • In series one, episode two ("The White Feather") of Foyle's War, detective Paul Milner attends a fascist group meeting which is obviously based on the BUF and Mosley. References are made to the BUF and Mosley elsewhere in the episode.
  • In the film, The King's Speech, a brief shot shows a brick wall in London plastered with posters, some reading "Fascism is Practical Patriotism" and others, "Stand by the King." Both sets of posters were put up by British Blackshirts, who supported King Edward VIII. Some historians believe Edward had fascist leanings. [14]

Prominent members and supporters

Despite the short period of operation the BUF attracted prominent members and supporters. These included:

See also

Other "shirts":


  1. ^ a b Thorpe, Andrew. (1995) Britain In The 1930s, Blackwell Publishers, ISBN 0-631-17411-7
  2. ^ Andrzej Olechnowicz, "Liberal Anti-Fascism in the 1930s: The Case of Sir Ernest Barker" in Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, (Vol. 36, No. 4, Winter, 2004), p. 643.
  3. ^ Hurrah for the Blackshirts
  4. ^ R. Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, London: Allan Lane, 1969, pp. 279-282
  5. ^ 1932-1938 Fascism rises - March of the Blackshirts
  6. ^ Lloyd. G, Yorkshire Post, 9 June 1934
  7. ^ a b Richard C. Thurlow. Fascism in Britain: from Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts to the National Front. 2nd edition. New York, New York, USA: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2006. p. 94.
  8. ^ Fenton, Ben. "Oswald Mosley 'was a financial crook bankrolled by Nazis'". Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Oswald Mosley, Tomorrow We Live (1938),
  10. ^ "Sound Files Oswald Mosley". The Friends of Oswald Mosley. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  11. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Mother Was A Blackshirt". 4 January 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  12. ^ McPherson, Angela; McPherson, Susan (2011). Mosley's Old Suffragette - A Biography of Norah Elam. ISBN 978-1-4466-9967-6. 
  13. ^ BFI Film & TV Database (2012). "Mosley". British Film Institute. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  14. ^ Ziegler, "King Edward VIII: The official biography", p. 392
  15. ^ Richard Griffiths, "Russell, Hastings William Sackville, twelfth duke of Bedford (1888–1953)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  16. ^ Richard Davenport-Hines, "Hay, Josslyn Victor, twenty-second earl of Erroll (1901–1941)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  17. ^ D. George Boyce, "Harmsworth, Harold Sidney, first Viscount Rothermere (1868–1940)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  18. ^ Arthur Green, "Allen, William Edward David (1901–1973)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  19. ^ a b c d e Resistance to fascism, Glasgow Digital Library (Accessed 6 February 2014)
  20. ^ a b c d e Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany. London: Constable, 1980. p.52 The names are from MI5 Report. 1 August 1934. PRO HO 144/20144/110. (Cited in Thomas Norman Keeley Blackshirts Torn: inside the British Union of Fascists, 1932- 1940 p.26) (Accessed 6 February 2014)
  21. ^ Linehan, Thomas. British Fascism, 1918-39: Parties, Ideology and Culture. p. 139. while Beckett was a one-time Labour MP for Gateshead (1924-29) and Peckham (1929-31) 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Julie V. Gottlieb, "British Union of Fascists (act. 1932–1940)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  23. ^ John Tooley, "Goodall, Sir Reginald (1901–1990)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  24. ^ Brian Holden Reid, "Fuller, John Frederick Charles (1878–1966)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  25. ^ David Renton, "Bennett, Donald Clifford Tyndall (1910–1986)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  26. ^ Anne Williamson, "Williamson, Henry William (1895–1977)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  27. ^ "Soviet spy who had his eye on Belfast", Belfast Telegraph, 24 May 2003
    Eric Waugh, With Wings as Eagles

Further reading

  • Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism by Stephen Dorril
  • 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts!': Fascists and Fascism in Britain between the Wars, Martin Pugh (Random House, 2005)

External links