On this day: Oswald Mosley dies

December 3 1980: death of a fascist leader


After the death of Britain’s wartime fascist leader at the age of 84, the JC wrote that the demise far right leader stirred “bitter memories of the 1930s and the immediate post-war period, when the Jewish community was subjected to a vicious campaign of vilification, often accompanied by physical violence.”

Educated at Winchester, trained at Sandhurst, the young politician was elected in 1918 to represent Harrow, north-west London, for the Conservatives. At just 22, he was the youngest MP in the house.

Four years later he was re-elected, but as an independent, the start of a political journey that saw him win a place on the Labour party’s National Executive Committee. Disagreements with Ramsey MacDonald prompted him to found the New Party in 1931 and a year later, he met the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini. He was left so impressed that he decided to replicate the extreme right wing party in Britain.

The British Union of Fascists espoused anti-communism and protectionism, and also antisemitism. Mosley would denounce Jewish behaviour at public meetings, while the Blackshirts would march through Jewish areas of east London, triggering riots including the famous Battle of Cable Street in 1936.

There were some 40,000 members of the BUF by the mid-1930s and for a period the party even had the support of the Daily Mail newspaper. But by the Second World War the party was attracting less support, and in 1940 the Home Secretary arrested and imprisoned Mosley and other BUF members – although his experience at Holloway Prison was somewhat more luxurious than that of most.

His political views made him famous, but so did his affair with the socialite Diana Mitford, who he eventually married in secret in 1936 at the home of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. One of the six guests at the wedding was the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler.

After the war Mosley, a disgraced figure, failed twice in attempts to gain a seat in parliament. In 1949 he and Diana moved to Ireland and then France, where he lived in relative exile until his death.

What the JC said: He claimed that he had never attacked Jews on account of their race or religion; his antagonism had been directed against Jewish interests which wished to embroil Britain and Germany in a ‘brothers’ war.” He drew a distinction between the “big Jews” involved in an “international conspiracy”…and the “little Jews” of no consequence who were of no particular consequence and could easily be dealt with. When these inconsequential “little Jews” daily had their shop windows smashed in the East end of London and elsewhere, bricks thrown through the windows of their homes where the Shabbat candles had neen lit and subjected to physical assault and abuse by street-corner fascist orators whipping up the mob, “the leader” saw no reason to intervene.

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Last updated: 9:11am, December 3 2010