Extracts from memoirs and diariesby Ian Irvine / November 13, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
In 1929, Oswald Mosley joined Ramsay Macdonald’s Labour government with responsibility for tackling unemployment. In the “Mosley Memorandum” he proposed high tariffs to protect British industries from international finance; the nationalisation of major industries; and a programme of public works to provide employment. The memorandum was rejected by the Cabinet and in May 1930 Mosley resigned. On 6th November 1930, Harold Nicolson writes in his diary:
“Lunch with the Mosleys. Tom [as Mosley was known to family and close friends] talks afterwards about the future. He is evidently thinking of leading some new party of younger Nationalists. He is not certain what to do or when to do it. If he strikes now he may be premature. If he delays he may be too late. ‘If,’ he says, ‘I could have £250,000 and a press I should sweep the country.’ By the press he means Beaverbrook [proprietor of the Daily Express, the highest-selling paper of the period]. I warn him against the impulsive character of Lord B.”
Mosley launched the New Party in February 1931. In April, Nicolson accompanies him to a public meeting of 7,000 people before a by-election at the Labour seat of Ashton-under-Lyne:
“He launches on an emotional oration on the lines that England is not yet dead and that it is for the New Party to save her. He is certainly an impassioned revivalist speaker, striding up and down the rather frail platform with great panther steps and gesticulating… with the result that there was real enthusiasm toward the end and one had the feeling that 90 per cent of the audience were certainly convinced at the moment.” The New Party took 16 per cent of the vote, splitting Labour support, and the Conservatives took the seat.
In May, Nicolson writes in his diary:
“Go and see Tom Mosley at his office. Have a long talk. He is finding some difficulty in restraining the more active members of the party. He tells me that the main response which we are getting, and which is very encouraging, comes from the younger Conservative group and is distinctly fascist in character. We discuss the present danger of the party attracting eccentrics and people with a grievance. He thinks it is unavoidable at first but that gradually, if we keep our heads, we shall attract more serious people.”
At the general election in October 1931, the New Party contested 24 seats, but only Mosley himself and a candidate in Merthyr Tydfil polled a serious amount of votes. The party subsequently moved much further to the right and in 1932 it was incorporated into Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.
In 1942, the Liberal MP Richard Acland sets up the Common Wealth Party. An idealistic aristocrat and committed Christian, Acland had become a socialist in 1936, a year after being elected to parliament. His party called for common ownership, “vital democracy” and morality in politics. He was supported by the writer JB Priestley who described him as: “An Old Testament character, just striding in from the wilderness.”
Although he had a reputation as a rather holy figure, Acland was a brilliant organiser of campaigns and his party won four by-elections during the war. The Labour MP Tom Driberg used to say:
“Dick Acland can walk into any unknown town and four days later there will be a committee.”
In February 1969, Driberg—still a Labour MP—writes to Acland with a proposal for a new party:
“Are you likely to be in London again in the foreseeable future? As you know, there will be six million new voters at the next election [the voting age had been reduced from 21 to 18]—an average of 10,000 a constituency! Anything could happen; not that they are all likely to vote the same way.
“I have been discussing the electoral possibilities, and the problems of revolution (and the difficulty of founding a new party) with two people, friends of mine, who could have some influence among the young: Mick Jagger and his lady, Marianne Faithfull—both more intelligent than you might suppose from their public personae. They would like to meet you. Would you?” Driberg had met Jagger the previous year and become enthused by the idea of getting him into parliament.
When Acland sent a 24-page synopsis of his views, restating the Christian Socialist ideals of the Common Wealth Party, Driberg replied:
“I think you have got the idea. Perhaps Common Wealth was a not-quite-right rehearsal?” His only reservation was that “there is very little or nothing in your synopsis about ‘permissiveness’—sex, drugs etc—though some recruits, carefully screened, would presumably be drawn from among the permissives? Their ‘vices’ are often simply, for them, the handiest expression of revolt against the present order.”
Despite continued correspondence, the meeting with Jagger and Faithfull never happened and the new party failed to materialise.