6.3 Overview of chapter 6
Although fascism in Britain did not attract as wide support as it did elsewhere, it was widely spread. It should not be forgotten that British fascism started at the bottom of society and worked its way up into the high society, it did not widespread, but held mainly in London and areas around it. Yet, the chances of Mosley’s success were very limited, because the conservative attitude was deeply rooted in British society, as could have been seen during the abdication crisis. Many people most of whom were unemployed or members of working class joined the BUF because they were disappointed by the political, as well as economical, developments and the BUF offered them some sort of self-realisation and feeling of importance. Even though many members were from the middle and upper classes, Mosley was not able to gain such political support to put him into any important political place, so the BUF remained low-stream party.
However, the influence they had on society was great. Mosley's economical innovativeness and planning influenced the political scene and people as Chamberlain or Churchill. The view British fascist had on women and women’s participation in the BUF was greatly recognized and changed the general view of the women role in Britain, as well as allowed the young generation of women to take bigger part in politics and other man occupied professions.
The Great War brought many changes to Britain and British people. Those changes were seen in all aspects of life. The most important changes concerned the slight shift of leading position of Britain in the world, and the social sphere.
As far as politics are concerned we have seen many changes which have started in this period and continue till today. The rise of the Labour Party proved that the shift towards equality was in full swing. The foundations of a welfare state, which was established after the Second World War, had been laid in this period. The rise of a great politician Oswald Mosley was observed, however, his conservative and fascistic views never got the needed support from other important politicians and fascists in the Great Britain remained low profile extremist party that had never got the chance to shine. The foreign policy Britain chose and maintained was the policy of appeasement in belief that if Hitler got what he claimed he wanted the war would not break out. Therefore, Britain probably sacrificed one small country in order to maintain the peace elsewhere. However, when the Munich Settlement was broken, Britain and the whole world realised that a new war was inevitable.
The development in the economic situation proved that Britain was slowly but surely losing her world-leading position and that the USA was taking this position over, a process which was finalised after the Second World War. The biggest proof was the crash on the stock-market in the USA, which had an enormous impact on the whole world. The situation would probably not have been so bad, had Britain not so stubbornly insisted on the free trade policy and adopted protective tariffs sooner. The re-adoption of the Gold Standard seems, in the retrospect, as quite a bad decision because it had negative impacts on exports, and thus on unemployment. Protective tariffs and means to better the situation were suggested by Oswald Mosley and rejected two times. His brilliant economical plans how to lead Britain from the crises were bases for the BUF policies and attracted many people, who believed that more radical steps are needed to solve the economical problems. However, the government had managed to overcome the crises from 1931 on and the timing of the emergence of the BUF was put completely wrong.
The social sphere underwent enormous changes. The main changes concerned the working classes. The living standards and working conditions improved remarkably. Nevertheless, changes could be seen in all classes. There was quite a big mobility among the classes and people had the opportunity to work themselves up. However, these changes were also connected with the way of thinking. Many people were feeling lost, disillusioned and, to some extent, betrayed. Those feelings were incited not only by the Great War, but also by the disappointing post-war development. Furthermore, those feelings could be found mostly among people with the lower standard of living and the unemployed. That is, partly, why they turned to the extreme political movements, such as fascism. It gave them the feeling of importance and belief that they could change something.
The holidays and leisure activities noted quite big improvements in these two decades, people all over the classes started to enjoy the paid holidays and activities in which they could spend their free time were enriched by the dance and music popularity; sports that were already important to the Britons experienced new wave of popularity with the growing publicity of sports in media such as radio or later television. It was young people's desperate need to have fun no matter how crazy the things they have done were that could be seen as one of the biggest changes of this period. People started to be reckless and more selfish, they started to think differently - to condemn the old ways and embrace everything that was new. The culture and lifestyle during the 1920s in Great Britain and mainly in the London area was influenced a lot by the jazz music and dance, which was quite controversial for the older society that uphold different values. The inclination towards extremist theories and ideology was seen mostly in the middle and upper classes' youths, people who were disappointed by the Britain's conservatism and inability to accept new ideologies.
Although fascism was not unknown to Britain and attracted a considerable number of admirers, the chances of ever succeeding as the main political ideology were almost nonexistent. The reason for that is that the fascism in Britain was truly British, and could be seen as an over-patriotic movement with liking for uniforms and the paramilitary way of life. The negative publicity that aroused the Olympia fiasco and the Public Order Act in 1936 that banned wearing uniforms were probably the best defences that helped Britain lower the popularity of fascism. Moreover, it ran rather along the Italian lines than the German ones and anti-Semitism or eugenics was never the most important issue, and with Hitler's still growing unpopularity in Britain the fascist movement was doomed to fail. The leadership role of Oswald Mosley was as well very controversial one, because of his recklessness and attitude towards the old politicians he and his party were never able to gain the needed support and political stance.
As we have seen Great Britain underwent significant changes in the relatively short interwar period. The most important changes concerned the social sphere and many of them continue till today. Nevertheless, Britain also made some mistakes and the worst of them were connected with her international politics. Those mistakes were dearly paid for not only by Britain but by the whole world in a way of the Second World War.
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Figure 1: Fashionable dresses from McCall's Fashion catalogue August 1925
Figure 2: Bob hairstyle is typical of the appearance of the Louise Brook.
Figure 3: Typical fashionable every-day clothes of the 1930's. (Fashion-era.com)