Neviim Tovim/TheHaftarah Circle Gillian Gould Lazarus

Oswald Mosley in Shoreditch and Finsbury

Posted on: November 27, 2018

In the General Election of 1966, Oswald Mosley represented his fascist party, the Union Movement, in the constituency of Shoreditch and Finsbury.

I was aged sixteen and a member of International Socialism, which became the Socialist Workers Party. A group of us went to heckle Mosley. The comrades were older than me, some of them teachers at my school and I hearkened to their words. They said that Mosley liked to pass himself of as a man of reason, a patriot, and that he would try to appeal to the casual racism of his audience.

There would be no point in attempting to reason with him during questions. It was better to use the epithet ‘Nazi’ which would undermine his claims to patriotism.

The meeting was fairly heavily policed. Some of my teachers thought they might be recognized by the fascists who would then deny them entry. My maths teacher said ‘I’ve brought a disguise,’ and pulled on a headscarf, which she knotted under her chin in the manner of the Queen. It wasn’t much of a disguise. I was wearing one of the smart coats my parents liked me to wear, probably from a wholesale supplier in Fashion Street.

Outside the meeting, a comrade kept shouting ‘Down with the senile firrer!’ He meant führer, but rhymed it with stirrer. Why not? Umlauts are not for everyone. He was denied entry.

Meanwhile, I was on the inside of Shoreditch and Finsbury Town Hall with a dozen or more comrades and the Senile Firrer himself took the platform, to applause. The heckling began as soon as he launched into his speech. Suddenly there was scuffling all around me, chairs turned over and men rolled on the floor in what looked like a dance of death. The police stepped in. They removed the hecklers, including the women disguised by headscarves, but they did not touch me, schoolgirl in well-cut coat, possibly blue.

After this disturbance, Mosley stepped forward to resume his speech. His eyes raked the audience and he said ‘Yes. I think we’ve got rid of the last of them now.’

Oh Mosley. Since you put it that way. I stood up and began yelling ‘Nazi! Nazi! Nazi!’ I was conscious that this had shortcomings as an argument, but as the comrades said, rightly, you don’t argue with Nazis.

Fortunately for me, no doubt, two policemen were swiftly at my side. Each seized an arm and I was what I suppose one calls frogmarched out of the hall and deposited in the foyer. The comrades stared and the tender-hearted teachers said ‘Gillian! Are you all right?’

When my grandfather heard of this, he made me repeat the story to his friends who used to play cards with him. How proudly he beamed. In his eyes, it was better than getting into Oxbridge, which was just as well, as that was something I didn’t manage to pull off. I probably spent too much time flogging Socialist Worker when I should have been studying past participles for verbs conjugated with être.

This 1966 histoire is vivid in my memory because my thoughts now dwell on the way that racism, when it has parliamentary ambitions, tries to pass itself off as something for the good of the nation. In the 1960s, gross racism occurred in some Conservative campaigns, most notably in the constituency of Smethwick and Labour did not confront it head on. The dockers marched in support of Enoch Powell and called Ian Mikardo MP a ‘Japanese Jew’. Back then, they knew their Gilbert and Sullivan.

I believe – and Steven Pinker is right when he says we make moral progress – that racism is no longer the vote-catcher that it was in the United Kingdom. However, my thoughts are troubled, day and night, by the resurgence of antisemitism, which seems to have become embedded in my own party, the Labour Party. Not a day passes without an antisemitic occurrence from the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, not an hour. I know this, because I look. Even Momentum got into trouble with Corbyn supporters because they demonstrated against David Icke’s show in Watford.

It no longer helps to call out ‘Nazi! Nazi!’ as now they say it back to us. Yes, they say it to opponents of antisemitism, reasoning that we may be Zionists and they are accustomed to call Zionists ‘Nazis,’ despite Labour’s kicking and screaming acceptance of the IHRA definition. Nevertheless we have to say what is happening on the left – and we do. Everyone does. Only the Corbynite press such as Skwawkbox and Canary and MPs such as Chris Williamson insist that we are motivated by a Machiavellian intention to promote Israeli influence abroad.

It is as if Mosley had turned to me and said ‘No, you’re the Nazi.’ Would his audience have believed that?

I don’t know.

I left the SWP when I was nineteen. Invective against Israel took off exponentially after the Six Day War and some of the comrades went to fight for Al Fatah. They were beginning to speak of Jews in the manner documented by authors Dave Rich and David Hirsh.

Until 2015, Labour was my political home but no longer and when I see what it has become, I want to shout.

I want you to shout.

Keep shouting.

Down with the ‘senile firrers,’ old or young, far right or left, attacking the mosques or the synagogues, planning terror or revolution or preparing for government.

The danger with Mosley was that those ordinary people might believe his words and be persuaded by his rhetoric, as many were in the 1930s when his antisemitism rode the zeitgeist.

Plus ça change.

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