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The ‘extreme Right’
        why it failed

Adrian Davies finds some answers in a recent autobiography

(Orginally published in Right Now!   July-September 2001)

MANY SHADES OF BLACK is an intriguing,  multi-faceted and yet in many ways a profoundly depressing book, although the author’s flashes of humour keep on breaking through the gloom. It is not only the autobiography of a man whose story is well worth hearing, but a journey to the wilder shores of politics in the company of a guide who was one of the leading figures on the British far Right for more than twenty years.

Our author was born some seventy-three years ago into a middle-class family in straitened circumstances. The Beans  could not afford the upkeep of their fine house at Carshalton, so moved to the less genteel surroundings of Sidcup, south London, where John’s father had found well-paid work. Frederick Bean’s death in 1941 plunged the family into poverty, for those were the days before the welfare state, when the loss of a breadwinner was calamitous for the whole family.

After a boyhood of less than consistent application to his studies, and much excitement as the Battle of Britain was fought out above his head, Bean joined the Navy and saw the world, or at any rate Trinidad. This was his first introduction to other peoples and cultures. By 1950 he was in India, to pursue his career as an industrial chemist.

Doubtless to the great disappointment of any Left-wing readers expecting a patronizing and bigoted rant, Bean’s reaction to these culture shocks was complex, and by no means unsympathetic, though he never saw India through rose-tinted spectacles.  It seems likely that chilling accounts from many eye-witnesses of the massacres that had marked partition in India instilled in him a healthy scepticism about the viability of ‘richly diverse’ multicultural societies.

Returning to England for family reasons Bean found his interest in politics developing along unconventional lines. Disenchanted by the envious egalitarianism of Labour, disgusted by the pro-Soviet extreme Left, yet unimpressed by a Conservative Party that seemed to exist only for the purpose of holding office without much idea of what to do with it, Bean read a copy of Sir Oswald Mosley’s book The Greater Britain, and soon began to attend meetings of Mosley’s Union Movement.

For all his intellectual and oratorical gifts and his magnetic charisma, Mosley was by 1950 a thoroughly busted flush, although it took Bean a few years to realize it.

Mosley had left the Labour Party in 1931 in understandable anger at its cowardly unwillingness to defy the financial establishment by adopting the radical economic policies needed to end the slump.  Following the failure of his New Party to make any significant electoral impact, he proclaimed himself a fascist in 1932.

After some initial success, his BUF thoroughly alienated potential supporters by its penchant for violence, culminating in the Olympia meeting, at which Blackshirt stewards fought a pitched battle with Communist opponents.  No doubt the greater fault lay with the Communists, who arrived at Olympia armed with knives, bicycle chains and coshes, but the Blackshirts had amply risen to the occasion, and the public’s perception of Mosley as a troublemaker had, as Bean candidly acknowledges, a solid foundation in fact. Mosley’s decision to ape the continental dictators by dressing his followers (against Mussolini’s advice) in an uniform which was a cross between that of a concentration camp guard and a bus conductor achieved the remarkable feat of making the BUF appear simultaneously sinister and ridiculous, a triumph which Mosley’s own pale imitators have since equalled, and even surpassed.

After an initial, favourable impression of Union Movement formed by meeting members of its Lewisham branch who, “were distinguished from some other Union Movement members that I met later by the fact that they all seemed to wash and shave regularly... could read and discuss their own policy, and... did not seem to suffer from sexual aberrations”, Bean gradually became disillusioned with Union Movement. Like the Bourbons of old, it had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.
It was at this point that I began to find Bean’s book depressing. He quickly saw that the majority of Union Movement members were chiefly interested in grossly provocative marches through areas with large Jewish populations in pursuit of much the same kind of thrill that football hooligans get from brawling with the other side’s fans. The other side were the even more unattractive Communist and Zionist thugs of the violent 43 Group led by the convicted black marketeer, brothel keeper and homosexual paedophile, Herschel ‘Harry’ Bidney.

Despairing of the futility of such ‘politics’, Bean left Mosley’s movement.  After moving to Barnes, he took a relative’s advice and joined the local Conservative association, in much the same way that certain of his contemporaries on the far Left were leaving their Trotskyite groupuscules to enter the Labour Party. His experiences of the Conservative Party were however to prove no less discouraging, though in a different way, than his time with Mosley: “My fellow members’ minds seemed dominated by minutes of the previous meetings, points of order relating to local drainage and other trivia, and a lack of interest in looking at policies now that the country was ‘back in the safe hands of the Conservatives’”.

Many, faced with such double disillusionment, would have abandoned politics, but Bean is evidently cast in the mould of the Sergeant Major of the Light Brigade, who asked the Earl of Cardigan after Balaclava whether they should “go again”!
This time his chosen vehicle was not a political party, but a pressure group, the quaintly named League of Empire Loyalists, which campaigned against the scuttle from Empire. The LEL had the advantage over Union Movement of appealing to British patriotism rather than ill-disguised nostalgia for dead dictators, while, unlike the Conservatives, it had a nobler purpose than the orderly management of decline.

The best of its activists were young people inspired by genuine love of country and with a natural flair for good publicity, not violent marches.  Its fatal flaw, however, was that its very raison d’être, the Empire, had been doomed for some years before the LEL’s formation, probably since the fall of Singapore, and certainly by 1945, by which time Great Britain had become so abjectly dependent upon the anti-colonialist United States that it could no longer pursue an independent foreign policy.
Moreover, the bright young things in the LEL were a small if conspicuous minority of the membership: the majority were retired Army officers, colonial civil servants and  minor aristocrats, many of whom had no doubt served Britain courageously and well in their day, but were getting distinctly long in the tooth by 1955, when Bean joined.

Bean, who evidently shares George Orwell’s view that the working classes are the most nationalist section of society, was soon pining after mass politics. His involvement on behalf of a LEL candidate in a bye-election in Lewisham in 1957 only reinforced his view that populist electioneering was the way ahead.  By now, moreover, he had found a new cry: “Stop immigration!”
Immigration, first from the economically declining West Indies and then from the Indian sub-continent, first reached significant levels in the 1950s. The non-European population of Great Britain in 1939 had been some 30,000 – much less than one tenth of one per cent of the  population (so much for the myth of a ‘continuing Black presence’ in England!).

Though Bean was in no sense personally hostile to or contemptuous of coloured immigrants, he was politically opposed to an ill-thought-out policy that betrayed the indigenous population’s interests, endangered social order in the medium term and national identity in the long term for the sake of short term economic gain.

London, which had a non-European population of only a few thousand in 1950 (most of them very recent newcomers), is forecast to be a majority Afro-Asian city by 2010, yet this social revolution has no democratic mandate whatsoever. Union Movement had opposed coloured immigration from its beginnings, but its fascist trappings put off the very voters it sought to court. By 1958, it was facing competition from the newly-formed National Labour Party, in which Bean was to play the leading role.

The NLP got off to a fair start, benefiting from a heightened sense of public concern about immigration following the Notting Hill riots of 1958, which came as a great shock at the time. (British readers will know that rioting and murder have since been instit-utionalised in this once-pleasant London suburb, under the guise of the annual ‘Notting Hill Carnival’. During this event violent, drug-crazed ‘youths’ rampage through the streets, robbing, raping and stabbing, more or less at will, while a demoralized, acquiescent,  politically-correct Metropolitan Police tells outright lies to disguise its cowardly unwillingness to uphold the law).

The mayhem of 1958 came as a salutary  surprise to Londoners, and in 1959 a number of NLP candidates recorded respectable, if unspectacular, results in ward elections.

After a brawl with Left-wing extremists at St Pancras Town Hall during a bye-election meeting, Bean found himself in prison for a short while. On his release he made the surprising mistake of supping with the devil, in the form of Colin Jordan, leader of the White Defence League, a man evidently of some culture, intellectual attainments and physical courage, but who was, and is, a Hitler cultist. This association was a capital political error, which Bean committed in the hope of strengthening his movement’s financial base: Jordan had inherited the Notting Hill house of a Mrs Leese, the wealthy widow of the notorious Arnold Spencer Leese.

The merged organisation of the WDL and the NLP was the British National Party, with which the present-day party of the same name has no formal connection. Within a very short period of time, Bean and the majority of BNP members had fallen out with Jordan and his small band of Nazi followers, with whom they had nothing in common ideologically.  Jordan left to form the National Socialist Movement, which failed to take the nation by storm, despite the support of the extremely glamorous but completely loopy French perfume heiress  Françoise Dior.

Back in the real world, Bean and the BNP got on with sensible politics, contesting a number of wards in Southall, a town badly affected by mass immigration. A BNP candidate polled 27.5% of the vote in one ward at the council elections of  1963, while  Bean himself polled an impressive 3,410 votes (9.2%) in the parliamentary constituency at the General Election of October 1964.

On 3rd June 1965, New Society, a respected Left-leaning journal, wrote of Bean’s movement:

“The break with pre-war Fascism is almost complete. The BNP has no ‘Leader’ whom it puts forward as a potential dictator and it avowedly works within the Parliamentary framework, declaring that it seeks power in just the same way as the orthodox political parties seek power. Bean, the leading personality, says he regards himself as ‘the drummer boy’ awakening public opinion rather than as ‘the new Charlemagne’. That this line of policy has won success is clear from the results.”

Perhaps there are some lessons here for the future: if so, it is time that the radical right learned them. Bean has shown that he, at least, is capable of acknowledging mistakes made, and regrets many of his own over-statements of the past.

Bean never sought position for himself  and fully supported moves to merge various small Right-wing, but non-fascist, groups into a ‘national front’. The concept was basically sound, and in due course the new party enjoyed heady if short-lived success,  by the standards of minor parties in British politics.

Bean would have had a good claim to the chair of the National Front’s ruling body, but willingly deferred to his old LEL chief, AK Chesterton, who became the NF’s first leader. He was probably wrong to do so. ‘AK’ had many outstanding qualities, including a good war record, and considerable facility with the pen, but he was aging and in declining health, so the new party’s affairs  became dominated by a struggle for the succession to his slipping crown.

Surprisingly, Bean, so instrumental in the party’s formation, now faded out of its leadership circle, for reasons that he does not explain very clearly, which is a pity, as his readers’ curiosity is roused by the intriguing question of why one so well qualified to lead chose to decline the purple.

By 1977 Bean was semi-retired from active politics, yet maintaining a lively interest in national affairs and the vicissitudes of the movement that he had done so much to create. This is apparent from his very interesting and, inevitably, controversial analysis of the failure of the National Front to establish itself as a permanent feature of the British political scene, despite its profound impact on political life in the 1970s. This  culminated in Margaret Thatcher’s “swamping” speech, designed to win over the emerging radical-Right electoral bloc amongst the indigenous working classes for the Tory party.

In a squalid age when politics is reduced to the posturing of Millbank hacks and their second rate imitators in Smith Square, spinning out the trivial differences between two essentially similar parties to an increasingly disenchanted electorate,  those in search of a radical alternative to the stifling liberal consensus will find much to chew over in the pages of Bean’s book, as will anyone with an interest in political history.

Buy, read and inwardly digest, agree or disagree, but do not ignore!

Many Shades of Black: Inside Britain’s Far Right, by John Bean, New Millennium, 259pp, pb. Price – £8.95.  Many Shades of Black may be obtained directly from the author, at PO Box 97, Newmarket, Suffolk, CB8 8WT. (Price includes p&p.)

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