• Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Column

Comment: Tory flirtation with fascism is historic

Plot to remove Sunak carries echoes of Britain’s past

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak waves during a visit to the MyPlace Youth Centre, in Mansfield, in central England on January 4, 2024. (Photo by JACOB KING/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Amit Roy

THE far-right section of the Conservative party is plotting to get rid of Rishi Sunak. But, then, no one should be surprised. Fascism has always appealed to a section of the Conservative Party and indeed to many in English aristocracy.

Here is a summary of a seriously regarded book, Hitler’s Girl: The British Aristocracy and the Third Reich on the Eve of WWII, which came out in September 2022.

Oswald Moseley

The author, Lauren Young, a Yale lecturer, previously taught at the London School of Economics and served as a political adviser in many international forums, including the UN. She relied on newly declassified intelligence files.

The publishers describe it as “a timely, riveting book that presents for the first time an alternative history of 1930s Britain, revealing how prominent fascist sympathisers nearly succeeded in overturning British democracy”.

They added: “Hitler’s Girl is a groundbreaking history that reveals how, in the 1930s, authoritarianism nearly took hold in Great Britain as it did in Italy and Germany. Drawing on recently declassified intelligence files, Lauren Young details the pervasiveness of Nazi sympathies among the British aristocracy, as significant factions of the upper class methodically pursued an actively pro-German agenda.

She reveals how these aristocrats formed a murky Fifth Column to Nazi Germany, which depended on the complacence and complicity of the English to topple its proud and longstanding democratic tradition—and very nearly succeeded.

“As she highlights the parallels to our similarly treacherous time, Young exposes the involvement of secret organisations like the Right Club, which counted the Duke of Wellington among its influential members; the Cliveden Set, which ran a shadow foreign policy in support of Hitler; and the shocking four-year affair between socialite Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler.”

A reviewer in The Times had many quarrels with the author, but conceded: “Certainly, there were elements of the elite who did more than flirt with fascism. This has been thoroughly canvassed before, for instance in Richard Griffiths’s Patriotism Perverted (1998). Young’s research does not unearth much new or sustain the assertion that there is a ‘hidden history . . .marked by German complicity at the highest ranks of British society’. Even so, for those unfamiliar with it, it is a story worth retelling.

Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks in Foyle’s War

“Young accordingly sketches, albeit superficially, the activities of Captain Ramsay’s antisemitic Right Club, singing along to ‘Land of dope and Jewry’, as well as those of Mosley, the Anglo-German organisation the Link (whose members included the Duke of Westminster and the Duke of Wellington) and the appeasing Cliveden Set. She also notes Edward VIII’s dalliances with Hitler.”

Anyone who is a fan of the TV drama, Foyle’s War, set in England during and shortly after the Second World War, will be familiar with aristocratic English figures who believed in Hitler’s view of the world.

Of course, it would be absurd to pretend England in 2024 isn’t a different country. It is worth being aware of the history of fascism and the systematic undermining of Britain’s first non-white prime minister carries echoes of the past. The Conservative Party is no longer the “nasty party” (Theresa May’s words). It is made up of mostly of modern and progressive MPs. But there are people on the far right of British politics who are the modern equivalents of Oswald Moseley, who founded the British Union of Fascists.

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