13 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 42

Liberal fascists

From Mr Toby Horton Sir: Lady Mosley is right to remind us that, after the war, Sir Oswald Mosley devoted his political life to the 'Europe as a Nation' movement (Letters, 6 November). Most of the surviving fascists saw this as a more effective means of achieving their goal of a corporate state that transcended national boundaries.

Where Lady Mosley's memory is more selective, however, is in her assertion that in the 1930s Sir Oswald sought to avoid involvement in the Continent. From 1933 Mussolini was funding the British Union of Fascists to the tune of about £60,000 year, while in 1939 Lady Mosley herself obtained, through personal contacts with Hitler, a licence to establish a radio station which would broadcast from Norddeich to the south of England.

Most telling of all, however, is her reminder that Sir Oswald 'wanted Europe to be a nation, a third force between Amer- ica and Russia. He was not an extremist.' There is serious historical work to be done on the links between the bien-pensants of the 1930s, Sir Oswald's New Party and the British Union of Fascists, with lessons for today. Sir Oswald, after leaving the Labour Party in 1930 to form his New Party, drew his support from many of the most influen- tial exponents of 1930s liberalism Bloomsbury rather than Islington — such as Lloyd George, George Bernard Shaw and Harold Nicolson. In the eyes of much 'third way' opinion in the 1930s, therefore,

Sir Oswald was certainly not an extremist. This tendency of liberalism to degenerate into fascism was best described by Philip Magnus in his seminal 1954 biography of Gladstone (less subjective by far than Roy Jenkins's recent divertissement).

In the bright noonday of intellectual liberal- ism, Gladstone had purchased people's love with coin of the purest gold. That coinage was debased by his competitors and, in the auction which followed, the currency was recklessly inflated ... Lloyd George exchanged a nod with Adolf Hitler on the trail from Midlothian to Limehouse and from Limehouse to the Nuremberg Rally.

In 1939 it was left to the 'forces of conser- vatism' to uphold freedom and a civilised society. The same is no less true today. Toby Horton

Whorlton Cottage, Swainby, Northallerton, North Yorkshire