British Union of Fascists : newspapers and secret files
On Thursday the 23rd of May 1940, after a lengthy period of surveillance by the security services, Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) which he had founded in 1932, was arrested by police under Defence Regulation 18B of the Emergency Powers Act (1939). He was interned, initially in Brixton Prison and then in Holloway. Two weeks after his arrest, under the heading 'Treason in politics', the last ever issue of Action (No. 222, June 6, 1940) proclaimed: "There is nothing in the policy of British Union, that lends the slightest excuse for such treasonable practices. It has been laid down again and again that members must obey the law, must do nothing to impede the nation's war effort, and in case of invasion, must rally to Ihe defence of the British Empire. Where members have been found guilty of disloyal or unpatriotic behaviour, their expulsion from the Movement follows as a matter of course."
Increasingly, during the course of the 1930s, the authorities had come to view the BUF as pro-Nazi. Although the BUF continued to function throughout the "phoney war", the invasion of France in May 1940 and the fear of an imminent invasion of Britain led the authorities to act against the British Union. Mosley's repeated calls "For Britain, peace and people", for example on the front page of issue no. 184 (September 2, 1939) of Action, the day after the Third Reich invaded Poland, were cited as evidence of support for appeasing Hitler. Indeed, among the reasons given in Home Office files (HO 283/12) for the internment of Mosley, together with over a thousand other leading BUF officials, was the charge that "the persons in control of the organization have or have had associations with persons concerned in the Government of Germany, a power with which His Majesty is at war," in other words the authorities thought they were Nazi collaborators. Yet for all this, the accusations made against Mosley were never tried in court, though there were a number of hearings at which he attempted to overturn the order of arrest and internment.
The issue became a cause célébre, with Mosley even enjoying support from such unlikely quarters as Britain's anarchists. In December 1943, introducing 'It might have happened to you!' (The Word : special investigation report on 18B), Guy A. Aldred, a prominent member of the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, "dare[d] to come forward, not as an apologist of their opinions, but as the defender of their civil rights. If they are traitors, indict them. If they are not traitors, release them. If they cannot be indicted, they ought to be restored to human liberty."
In addition to the three principal organs of BUF, Action (1936-1940), Blackshirt (1933-1939) and Fascist week (1933-1934), the present collection reproduces, from the National Archives at Kew, a wealth of information gathered by the Home Office, the Police, MI5 and the Cabinet Office on Mosley and also his second wife, Lady Diana Mosley, who was arrested and interned just over a month later, on the 29th of June 1940. Read together, these newspapers and previously classified documents permit researchers to evaluate the true extent not only of any threat home-grown fascism posed to Britain during the early stages of the Second World War, but also of the political and financial relationships between British fascists, the Nazis in Germany, and Mussolini's fascist party in Italy, as well as elsewhere in Europe during this period of political history.