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The ‘extreme Right’
why it failed
Adrian Davies finds some answers in a recent autobiography
(Orginally published in Right Now!
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’
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
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, 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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