Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Pro-Fascist Tories in Lewisham

In the 1930s Lewisham had two Conservative MPs, both of whom were active in promoting links with fascist regimes in Europe. The only difference between them was that one was closer to Mussolini's Italy, and the other to Hitler's Germany.

Sir Philip Dawson (1866-1938) was Conservative MP for Lewisham West from 1921 until his death. He was chairman of the Anglo-Italian Parliamentary Committee and a great admirer of Mussolini. After visiting Rome in 1933, he wrote a letter to the Times entitled 'Italy under fascism: ten years of progress'. Arguing that 'Italy affords an amazing example of the genius of constructive statesmanship' he talked glowingly of fascism's 'benevolent influence on every phase of Italian public life' (Times, 4 May 1933). A 1938 signed photograph of the Italian dictator dedicated to Dawson was recently offered for sale by an autograph company. He was among the Conservative MPs who argued for restrictions on Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany (Harry Defries, Conservative Party Attitudes to Jews 1900-1950, 2001 p.127).

Meanwhile in Lewisham East, Lieut-Colonel Sir Assheton Pownall was Conservative MP from 1918 to 1945. He was one of 22 Conservative MPs who were members of the Anglo German Fellowship, which promoted friendly relations with Nazi Germany. In 1937 he wrote an article for the local paper, The Mercury, describing a little visit:

'I was this year invited by the German Government to come as its guest for the Annual Nazi Party rally held each year in Nuremburg in Bavaria... On Sunday we saw 110,000 (the figure is suprising but quite accurate) of the SA and SS, the former in brown, latter in black uniforms, all defile past Hitler - it took four and a half hours - each contingent played past by its own band and marching the celebrated "goose step" before Hitler, many thousands of colours included in the procession - how tired we got of saluting them [oh dear, a bad case of stiff right arm fatigue! - Transpontine note].

... We were presented to the Fuhrer - as Hitler is usually called - and I had the chance of a short talk with him... The week was a most interesting one. The German hospitality was abounding and one came away with a great regard for the powers of organisation, and of mass appeal shown, and conscious of the reawakening of national spirit in a great nation' (Mercury, 24 September 1937).

OK so it was the 1930s! But perhaps a timely reminder that the liberalish platitudes of Cameron & co. can't entirely erase the party's history as the home for all manner of racists, foxhunting toffs, homophobes, and enthusiasts for the 'flower of a nation's boyhood' marching in strict military formation...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Similar charges could be made against Labour support for Stalin, before people knew about the purges. Interestingly, there was quite a lot of support for Stalin from the British left even after the purges became known.

I'd suggest there's not much use in saying one party/wing is worse than the other. The correct lesson seems to be that people can't predict the future, lust for power, and blinker themselves when they think they're correct.