Thursday, November 17, 2016
'Pride, Prejudice and Peckham' - John Beckett, from Labour MP to Nazi apologist
I have been peering again into the murky waters of the history of the far right in South London. One of the more depressing specimens is John Beckett (1894-1964).
After the First World War, in which he served, Beckett joined the left wing Independent Labour Party and following a period as a Hackney councillor he became the Labour MP for Gateshead in 1924, and then for Peckham in the 1929 General Election. He seems to have created some dischord such that in the 1931 election three Labour candidates stood against each other, all of whom lost to the Conservative candidate as a result (draw what contemporary lessons you like from that...)
Beckett subsequently moved rapidly to the right, and in 1934 joined Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF). Beckett became the BUF's Director of Publications, editing its paper, but after falling out with Mosley founded the even more openly anti-semitic National Socialist League with William Joyce. Joyce, from Dulwich, ended up being executed for his role as Hitler's 'Lord Haw Haw' propagandist. Beckett, along with other nazi sympathisers, was interned from 1940 to 1943 - for some of the time in Brixton Prison. After the war he resumed his fascist activities with the British People's Party before dying in 1964. His son, the writer/journalist Francis Beckett, later wrote about him in the book 'Fascist in the Family'.
For those intrigued/horrified by the politics of left-right crossover - in which sometime leftists co-operate and ultimately become indistinguishable from the extreme right - the case of Beckett and some of his associates is a salutary lesson. Among his comrades in the British People's Party were Ben Greene, a Quaker pacifist and former Labour candidate, and St John Philby (father of Russian spy Kim Philby), another former Labour supporter who converted to Islam and helped the Saudi family to power in what became Saudi Arabia - before standing as a fascist candidate and being locked up for a period in the Second World War. What a bunch of eejits.