A headline in this week’s Liverpool Echo caught my eye. It appears that the Labour Council is attempting to have Wavertree’s Cricketer’s Club licence revoked after it hosted a conference of the British National Party. An interesting exchange of posts on the newspaper’s website came down heavily against the seemingly autocratic action being taken on the basis that freedom of speech was a value that must be upheld however abhorrent the views of the BNP.
This brought to mind today’s photograph, of a heavily bandaged Oswald Mosley photographed after being attacked at a rally in Liverpool. Photographed at Walton Hospital in October 1937, he was almost at the end of his political career. A member of the aristocracy, he became a Conservative MP at the age of 21 but fell out over the use of Black and Tans in Ireland. Crossing the House, he became a member of the Independent Labour Party and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in Ramsay MacDonald’s government before, again falling out and establishing the British Union of Fascists in 1932. Heavily influenced by Mussolini, he quickly attracted influential support amongst both the Establishment and the working class. His more extreme supporters took to wearing black shirts and the Daily Mail published a famous headline Hurrah for the Black Shirts (not a lot changes with certain papers). Rallies held by Mosley provoked the kind of scenes that BNP rallies attract – although of a more violent nature. The Liverpool rally was described in The Glasgow Herald newspaper:
Sir Oswald Mosley was hit on the head by a stone and knocked semi-conscience immediately he stood on the top of a loud-speaker van to address an open-air meeting at Queens Drive, Liverpool, yesterday. As the van was being driven to a piece of waste land, hundreds of missiles were thrown, Sir Oswald, had not had time to utter a word when a large stone hit him on the temple and he fell on his face. Mounted police who were standing by in a neighbouring yard, immediately rushed out and charged the crowd back. A Fascist bodyguard stood by to guard Sir Oswald in spite of showers of bricks from large sections of the crowd.
Mosley was whisked off to Walton Hospital and discharged after a week recovering from concussion and a minor head wound. Twelve men and two women were arrested, although whether they were Fascists or Anti-Fascists is not stated. From 1937 onwards, the appeal of the Blackshirts rapidly waned and Mosley was eventually detained in prison in 1940 for the duration of the War.
Liverpool has an honourable tradition in the fight against Fascism. Around 130 local men, including two City Councillors, fought in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and 28 of them had died in the unsuccessful battle against Franco. One noted participant was Jack Jones, later General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. In light of the news item about the British National Party and its meeting at the Cricketers Club, it is a timely reminder to be vigilant of the dangers of extremism which often flourishes in difficult economic times.