Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet (November 16, 1896 - December 3, 1980) was a British politician principally known as the founder of the British Union of Fascists. He was also the sixth baronet of a title established in 1720.
Family and early life
Mosley's family were Anglo-Irish but his branch were prosperous landowners in Staffordshire. When his parents separated, he was brought up by his mother and his paternal grandfather, Sir Oswald Mosley, 4th Baronet. Within the family and among intimate friends, he was always called 'Tom'.
He was educated at Winchester College and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. During World War I, he was commissioned in the 16th Lancers and fought on the Western Front. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as an observer but a crash left him with a permanent limp. He returned to the trenches before the injury was fully healed and, at the Battle of Loos, he passed out at his post from the pain. He was assigned to desk jobs for the rest of the war.
At the end of the war, Mosley decided to go into politics as a Conservative MP, although he was only 21 years old and had not fully developed his politics. Largely because of his family background, he was considered by several constituencies; a vacancy near the family estates seemed to be the best prospect. Unexpectedly, he was selected for Harrow first. In the general election of 1918 he faced no serious opposition and was elected easily. He was the youngest member of the House of Commons to take his seat (there was an abstentionist Sinn Fein MP who was younger). He soon distinguished himself as an orator and political player, albeit marked with extreme self-confidence. He made a point of speaking in the House of Commons without notes.
In 1920 he married Lady Cynthia Curzon (known as 'Cimmie'), second daughter of George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Earl Curzon of Kedleston, Viceroy of India, and his first wife, the American mercantile heiress the former Mary Victoria Leiter . Lord Curzon had to be persuaded that Mosley was a suitable husband, as he suspected Mosley was largely motivated by social advancement and his new wife's inheritance. It turned out that Curzon was right to be suspicious. Nevertheless, the wedding was the social event of the year, attended by many branches of European royalty.
Crossing the floor
Mosley was at this time falling out with the Conservatives over the issue of Irish policy, and the use of the Black and Tans to suppress the Irish population. Eventually he 'crossed the floor' and sat as an Independent MP on the opposition side of the House of Commons. Having built up a following in his constituency, he retained it against a Conservative challenge in the general elections of 1922 and 1923. By 1924 he was growing increasingly attracted to the Labour Party which had just formed a government, and in March he joined. He immediately joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) as well and allied himself with the left.
When the government fell in October, Mosley had to chose a new seat as Harrow would not re-elect him as a Labour candidate. He therefore decided to oppose Neville Chamberlain in his constituency of Birmingham Ladywood. An energetic campaign led to a knife-edge result but Mosley was defeated by 77 votes. His period outside Parliament was used to develop a new economic policy for the ILP, which eventually became known as the 'Birmingham proposals'; they continued to form the basis of Mosley's economics until the end of his political career. In 1926, a Labour seat in Smethwick fell vacant and Mosley returned to Parliament.
Mosley then made a bold bid for political advancement within the Labour Party. He was close to Ramsay Macdonald and hoped for one of the great offices of state, but when Labour won the 1929 general election he was only appointed to the post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (a defacto Minister without Portfolio), outside the Cabinet. He was given responsibility for solving the unemployment problem, but found that his radical proposals were blocked either by his superior James Henry Thomas or by the Cabinet. Mosley was always impatient and eventually put forward a whole scheme in the 'Mosley Memorandum' to find it rejected by the Cabinet; he then resigned in May 1930. He attempted to persuade the Labour Party Conference in October, but was defeated again.
Determined that the Labour Party was no longer suitable, Mosley quickly founded the New Party. Its early parliamentary contests, in byelections, were successful only in splitting the vote and allowing the Conservative candidate to win. The New Party increasingly inclined to fascist policies, but Mosley was denied the opportunity to get his party established when the 1931 election was suddenly called. All of its candidates, including Mosley himself, lost their seats.
After failure in 1931 Mosley went on a study tour of the 'new movements' of Mussolini and other Fascists, and returned convinced that it was the way forward for him and for Britain. He determined to unite the existing fascist movements and created the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932. The BUF was anti-Communist and protectionist. It claimed membership as high as 50,000, and had the Daily Mail among its earliest supporters. Among his followers were the novelist Henry Williamson and military theorist J.F.C. Fuller.
Mosley had found problems with disruption of New Party meetings and instituted a corps of black uniformed paramilitary stewards who were nicknamed blackshirts. The party was frequently involved in violent confrontations, particularly with Communist and Jewish groups and especially in London. At a large Mosley rally at Olympia on 7 June 1934, mass brawling broke out when hecklers were removed by blackshirts, resulting in bad publicity. This and the Night of the Long Knives in Germany led to the loss of most of the BUF's mass support. The party was unable to fight the 1935 general election. Mosley continued to organise marches policed by the blackshirts, and the government was sufficiently concerned to pass the Public Order Act 1936 which banned political uniforms. At Cable Street in October 1936 Mosley was at the head of a march of fascists who were forced by a much larger crowd of local people and anti-fascists to turn away.
Cimmie Mosley died of peritonitis in 1933 which left Mosley free to marry his mistress Diana Guinness, née Mitford, (one of the celebrated Mitford sisters). They married in secret in 1936, in the home of Nazi chief Joseph Goebbels; Adolf Hitler was one of the guests. Mosley, who had been spending large amounts of his private fortune on the BUF, wished to establish it on a firm financial footing and was negotiating, through Diana, with Hitler for permission to broadcast commercial radio to Britain from Germany.
In the London County Council elections in 1937 the BUF stood in three of its East London strongholds, polling up to a quarter of the vote. Mosley then made most of the employees redundant, some of whom then defected from the party with William Joyce. As the European situation moved towards war the BUF began nominating Parliamentary candidates and launched campaigns on the theme of 'Mind Britain's Business'. After the outbreak of war, he led the campaign for a negotiated peace. He was at first received well but after the invasion of Norway this gave way to hostility and Mosley was nearly assaulted.
On 23 May 1940 Mosley, along with most active fascists in Britain, was interned under Defence Regulation 18B, and the BUF was later proscribed. Diana Mosley was also interned, shortly after the birth of their son Max, and they lived together for most of the war in a house in the grounds of Holloway prison. Mosley used the time to read extensively on classical civilizations. The couple were released in 1943 when Mosley was suffering with phlebitis and spent the rest of the war under house arrest.
After the war Mosley was contacted by his former supporters and persuaded (initially against his will) to rejoin active politics. He formed the Union Movement, calling for a European superstate. His pre-war notoriety and internment counted against him and the party never attracted more than a derisory vote. This led to Mosley's decision, in 1951, to leave England and live in Ireland. He later moved to Paris. Of his decision to leave he said "You don't clear up a dungheap from underneath it."
Mosley briefly returned to Britain in order to fight the 1959 general election at North Kensington, shortly after the Notting Hill race riots of 1958. The Union Movement had worked heavily in the area attempting to increase racial tension and Mosley fully expected to win, but polled abysmally. His last election contest was a forlorn try in the 1966 general election; he then wrote his memoirs My Life (1968) and retired.
He had three children by Cimmie, including Nicholas Mosley who wrote a biography of his father. By Diana Mitford he had two sons, including Max Mosley who is president of the FIA. Mosley was a noted philanderer and had numerous affairs including, during his first marriage, with his wife's sister Lady Alexandra Metcalfe , as well as her stepmother, Grace Curzon, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston , the American-born widow of Lord Curzon of Kedleston.
- Oswald Mosley - Briton, Fascist, European http://www.oswaldmosley.com/index.html
- BBC report on MI5 surveillance of Mosley http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2518271.stm
- National Portrait Gallery pictures http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp05636
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Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01