Oswald Mosley was the youngest elected Conservative Member of Parliament before crossing the floor in 1922, joining first Labour and, shortly afterward, the Independent Labour Party. In 1930, Mosley issued his Mosley Memorandum, which fused protectionism with a proto-Keynesian program of policies designed to tackle the problem of unemployment, and he resigned from the Labour Party soon after, in early 1931, when the plans were rejected. He immediately formed the New Party with policies based on his memorandum.
The New Party became increasingly influenced by fascism the following year after Mosley visited Benito Mussolini in Italy. The party folded, and Mosley wrote a manifesto, “The Greater Britain,” which served as the inspiration for the British Union of Fascists (BUF) that he launched on October 1, 1932, in London. According to Britannica:
The BUF claimed 50,000 members at one point. The Daily Mail initially supported the movement, running the headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!” in reference to Mosley’s bodyguards – the “Biff Boys” – who saluted their leader in the same manner as the Nazis and Italian fascists.
The first Director of Propaganda, appointed in February 1933, was Wilfred Risdon, who was responsible for organizing all of Mosley’s public meetings.
Despite strong resistance from anti-fascists, including the local Jewish community, the Labour Party, the Independent Labour Party, and the Communist Party of Great Britain, the BUF found a following in the East End of London, where in the London County Council elections of March 1937, it obtained reasonably successful results in Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, and Limehouse, polling almost 8,000 votes, although none of its candidates was elected. The BUF did elect a few councilors at the local government level during the 1930s) but did not win any parliamentary seats.
In the mid-1930s, the BUF’s violent clashes with opponents began to alienate some middle-class supporters, and membership decreased. At the Olympia rally in London in 1934, BUF stewards violently ejected anti-fascist disrupters, and this led the Daily Mail to withdraw its support for the movement. The level of violence turned neutral parties against the BUF.
The BUF became increasingly anti-Semitic due to the growing influence of Nazi sympathizers within the party, such as William Joyce and John Beckett, which provoked the resignation of members such as Dr. Robert Forgan. Membership declined, dropping to below 8,000 by the end of 1935, and, ultimately, Mosley shifted the party’s focus back to mainstream politics.
There were frequent and continuous violent clashes between BUF party members and anti-fascist protesters, most famously at the Battle of Cable Street in October 1936, when organized anti-fascists prevented the BUF from marching through Cable Street. However, the party later staged other marches through other parts of the East End without incident.
BUF support for Edward VIII and the campaign to prevent a second world war attracted new members and public support expanded. The government became sufficiently concerned by the party’s growing prominence to pass the Public Order Act 1936, which banned political uniforms and required police consent for political marches.
In 1937, William Joyce and other Nazi sympathizers split from the party to form the National Socialist League, which quickly folded, with most of its members interned. Mosley later denounced Joyce as a traitor and condemned him for his extreme anti-Semitism.
By 1939, the total BUF membership was 20,000. The movement stagnated, however, after Mosley and some 740 other party members were arrested and interned in May 1940. The BUF was declared unlawful on July 10, 1940, and ceased its activities. Mosley’s effort to resuscitate the movement after the war failed.