Upcoming Talk: Dr. Marisa Linton speaks on Danton versus Robespierre

Ever wondered what the #Metoo movement would make of the French Revolution’s leaders? Dr. Marisa Linton, Associate Professor in History at Kingston University, is speaking at the @FrenchHistoryUK conference being held at the University of Warwick, 9-10th July, 2018, with a paper on Danton versus Robespierre: a Real or a False Polarity?

       Georges_Danton                 220px-robespierre

As well as teaching at Kingston University, Marisa is an active researcher and is a leading international expert on all aspects of the French Revolution. She has given many invited talks on the Revolution, including in the USA, France, Canada, Australia, Germany and Norway. Do take this opportunity to hear her speak at Warwick.

Marisa Linton’s publications include Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship, and Authenticity in the French Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

186Linton, Marisa

 

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Posted in European History, Events, French History, Public History, Research, Uncategorized, World History | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mussolinism in Kingston: How the Italian dictator caused local controversy

After days of political and constitutional stalemate, Italy now has a new government, made up of two populist and controversial parties in an uneasy alliance: the Five-Star Movement and the League (formerly the Northern League). Both parties have referred to the decline of moral values in Italy. The League, in particular, has espoused some disturbing authoritarian and anti-immigrant ideas, but what is noticeable is how various non-Italian politicians and commentators appear to approve of this latest sign of rightwing ‘resurgence’ in Europe, including former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

Mussolini1

These developments have coincided with some recent research I conducted on pro-fascist sentiment in interwar Britain. The advent of fascist leader Benito Mussolini to the premiership of Italy in 1922, and his gradual conversion of the country into a full dictatorship over the course of the next 2-3 years, was watched with mixed feelings in this country. A number of commentators took the view that the Duce was very bad news for liberal parliamentary democracy, and a potential threat to wider European peace, while others appeared to strongly admire his apparent ‘rescue’ of Italy from Bolshevism and economic instability.

Those individuals who admired Mussolini and his new regime were often openly enthusiastic about the ‘new Italy’, and expressed this in terms that many of us today (I would hope) still find shocking. However, even back in the 1920s, the fans of Mussolini could often engender similar outrage and dismay. In particular, people could still be dismayed by the number of clergy who appeared to admire Mussolini’s methods, especially his apparent rejection of atheism and the seeming conversion of his country back to more ‘spiritual’ values. Contemporary historians have sometimes referred to this type of sentiment as ‘clerico-fascism’.

At local level in Kingston-on-Thames, in Surrey, a good example of such controversy occurred in June and July, 1927. In late June, 1927, the Surrey Comet carried a lengthy report entitled ‘Saviour of Italy – Brilliant Address on Mussolini’s Career’. This news item gave an account of a talk given at the 37th anniversary of the opening of the Eden Street Wesleyan Church in Kingston, a two day event. On the second day of the celebrations, the Reverend Dr. J.E.B. Kirtlan had given a lecture on ‘Mussolini and what he stands for’.

The Reverend Dr. Kirtlan ‘began by saying that he regarded Mussolini as the greatest personality alive at the present time’. Kirtlan said that he did not mean by this that Mussolini was ‘the best or the greatest’, or even that he was a good man, ‘but that he was a portent’. Dr. Kirtlan proceeded to give an outline of the history of Italy from Ancient Rome to 1860, the year when the new Kingdom of Italy was founded. He noted, however, that Italian parliamentary democracy had ‘degenerated sadly’ over the years.

He then gave the background to Mussolini’s life. After the Great War, Mussolini had, in the Reverend’s view, seen ‘the sinister hand stretched out from Moscow to seize Italy’. Mussolini had realised that Bolshevism was the ‘very incarnation of diabolism’ and if Russian Soviet ideals took hold, it was ‘the end of Italy’. Dr. Kirtlan then proceeded to show to his audience how Mussolini had ‘rescued’ Italians ‘from gross materialism, and brought them back to the foundation truth of the Christian religion – that it was only by sacrifice that the world could be saved’.

Benito Mussolini Posing with Church Dignitaries

Kirtlan noted approvingly that, today, Italian churches were now crowded and, instead of selfishness, people were inspired  by the ‘ideal of service’. Mussolini had brought back the cross into schools, ‘whereas the Russian Soviet taught the people to blaspheme God and to trample and spit upon the crucifix’. Bringing his talk to a close,  Dr. Kirtlan claimed that ‘striking results’ had followed from Mussolini’s policies, ‘as seen in the regenerated and rejuvenated Italy of today’. He added that he did not for a  moment suggest that we needed a Mussolini in England, as we were happily wedded, he said, to constitutional government, ‘but we did need to recover the belief that the ideals of service and sacrifice, as opposed to self-seeking, were the surest foundations of national well-being’. The Reverend T.H. Fenn thanked Kirtlan ‘for his brilliant address…’.

It was no surprise to find that, over the next three weeks, the Surrey Comet carried a number of letters either condemning or supporting the address given by the Reverend Dr. Kirtlan. In the June 29th issue, for example, a letter from Mr. H. Marsden, of Canbury Park Road in Kingston, said that it was ‘with some amazement’ that he had read in the newspaper details of the address delivered by Kirtlan: ‘We have all heard various accounts of the “Duce”, but it is certainly the first time I have heard of him as a kind of Saint’. Marsden added that Mussolini may have produced in Italy some form of order out of chaos, ‘but by what means has he and his blackshirt fascists accomplished it? In most instances by a ruthless reign of terror, equal to, if not surpassing that of Russia’.

A week later, the Comet carried another letter, from Mr. Lewis, of Teddington. This took a more approving stance towards Kirtlan’s views. Lewis claimed that ‘thousands of travellers’ had told us of Italy’s ‘wonderful position’ under Mussolini. According to Lewis, the country had been ‘in a sad state after the war’, with ‘extreme Socialists holding it in a vice’, and religion ‘scouted’. Mussolini, asserted Lewis, had ‘stopped the ruin. There is order out of chaos and thousands of all classes are bound together to keep Italy great’.

Mussolini March on Rome

Similarly, the next edition of the newspaper contained another pro-Mussolini letter. Penned by Mr. Arthur Webb, a Kingston resident who now lived temporarily in Milan, the writer argued that, immediately after the war, Italy had fallen into the hands of ‘people with pronounced Bolshevistic tendencies’. Mussolini, claimed Webb, had ‘saved his country from the fate of Russia’ and created a happy people who were now ‘staunch adherents’ of fascism. The writer asserted: ‘Let all sane-minded Englishmen think of Mussolini as the Saviour of Italy’.

Clearly, there were those who took a notably pro-fascist or sympathetic view of Mussolini and his new authoritarian regime, and approved (it would appear) of the seeming ‘spiritual’ or religious aspects of fascism in Italy. Was the Reverend Dr. J.E.B. Kirtlan himself a ‘clerico-fascist’? There was arguably a strand of this in his thinking. But I have found no evidence that he was a member (either active or passive) of a fascist organisation in this country. What obviously impressed the Reverend was the image of Mussolini as a defender of Christian religion and the church. Moreover, in a markedly stereotypical way, Kirtlan shared the view of a number of other commentators that the Italian character and nation was somehow ‘weak’ and prone to disorder, and in need of the firm hand of authoritarian government. In this sense, Mussolini and his movement was a force for stability and ‘order’, a view that would continue to influence some members of the clergy during the 1930s (including towards the Spanish dictator General Franco).

One suspects that such sentiments and views of Italy are still around today. Indeed, one can detect a growing nostalgia in Italy itself for the ‘good old days’ of Mussolini, or the restoration of the values of ‘strong’ leadership. Personally, I find this very worrying.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: WikiMedia Commons)

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Wake Up! Invasion fears in Surrey during early World War One

By late 1914, it had become very apparent to people in Britain that the ‘great war’ would not be ‘over by Christmas’, as many had initially predicted and hoped. Moreover, as 1914 gave way to the new year of 1915, an increasingly pessimistic and, frankly, alarmist atmosphere began to develop on the Home Front in Britain concerning enemy intentions.

British anti spy poster WW1

One sign of this was increased paranoia about German spies in the country (see, for example, the poster image). Another, and related, sign of the new pessimism was growing talk about the possibility of German military invasion. The most likely place for this, it was claimed, would be on the south coast of England.

Historians are familiar with the fear of enemy invasion that gripped many in Britain in the summer of 1940, during the Second World War. Much less research has been conducted by scholars, though, on the paranoia about invasion of the British Isles that had also developed within just six months of the start of the earlier world war. Yet there are quite noticeable similarities.

Interesting evidence of this can be found at local level in Surrey in early 1915. As a large County situated next to some key southern coastal Counties, the authorities in Surrey had to develop detailed contingency plans for how the whole area would deal with the impact of fighting on the south coast, and the potential mass movement of people and livestock this might entail. The plan appeared to give priority to ensuring successful evacuation of livestock (thus securing valuable food supplies), but minimising the movement of ordinary civilians, thereby avoiding clogging up major County roads or the main Surrey railway stations.

On January 20th, 1915, for example, the local Surrey Comet newspaper, based in Kingston-on-Thames, published a lengthy article on ‘The Defence of the Realm’, which described for readers (as the paper put it) ‘How Surrey Would be Affected by Invasion’.

The Comet noted that a ‘preliminary notice regarding prospective measures to be taken under the Defence of the Realm Act in case of emergency’ had been issued and published in the press in the previous month. Moreover, said the newspaper, the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey was now of the opinion ‘that further information as to the measures being taken should now be communicated to the public’.

The measures, as the Comet summarised them, involved possible interference with ‘the normal routine of the population, the vehicular traffic, and the live stock of the County’, and this necessitated ‘careful preparation beforehand’, with ‘precautionary measures’ taken in advance. As the newspaper explained: ‘The County of Surrey can only be affected by a raid on the Kentish or Sussex coasts accompanied by a landing of the enemy’s troops. Even then it will not be immediately affected, but the first probable result might be a movement of population, vehicles and live stock from the Coast Counties into Surrey’.

The prospective measures would also involve an important role for the police: ‘Should it be necessary at any time to clear any portion of the County for military operations, notices will be sent through the police to individual owners in regard to various types of vehicles or live stock, etc., giving them orders for removal or destruction’.

Readers were also informed that ‘special routes’ had been laid out in these plans, ‘avoiding main roads for the removal of cattle’, and arrangements had been made for ‘local guides’, with ‘billeting stations fixed, and areas into which live stock will be removed selected’. Owners of animals, it was added, ‘would furnish their own herdsmen’.

As for the County’s civilian population more generally, a firm but also reassuring tone was struck in the official guidance, possibly designed to avoid creating mass panic in the event of nearby fighting: ‘The public are not required or advised to leave their homes when an emergency arises, but if any person contemplates doing so, it will not be wise to leave it to the last moment, as the railways may not be available for the movement of civilians and road traffic may be interfered with owing to military requirements’. The guidance added: ‘A general exodus of the population of Surrey would appear to be impracticable’.

Civilians were also warned that the actual defence of the County was to be in the hands of authorised forces only: ‘The civil population will not be allowed to bear arms unless duly enlisted in a Volunteer Corps which has been recognised by the War Office. A register of affiliated Volunteer Corps is being made’.

British recruitment poster 1915 It_is_far_better_to_face_the_bullets

The First World War, of course, also saw a brand new development in warfare between the nations, where the Island of Britain itself became more difficult to defend and no longer felt ‘safe’: bombardment by German aeroplanes or Zeppelins (see the recruitment poster from 1915). The guidance for Surrey thus also noted that ‘precautions should be observed by the inhabitants of towns in the possible event of bombardment by aircraft’. It was advised: ‘Inhabitants of houses should go into the cellars or lower rooms’ and, if an aircraft was seen or heard overhead, ‘crowds should disperse, and all persons should, if possible, take cover’.

Unsurprisingly, the same issue of the Surrey Comet which carried this official guidance also devoted it’s editorial column to commenting on the advice: ‘However unwilling most people are to contemplate invasion or an air raid as imminent, and however we may hope the event will prove that such confidence is well-placed, prudence suggests preparations and adequate arrangements beforehand, less the unexpected happens’.

The Comet editorial argued that, just for that reason, the public ‘are advised to study carefully’ the official notice issued by the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey and also by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

British recruitment poster Lord Kitchener

It is difficult to know or to measure to what extent local people in Surrey did indeed study such advice, but it is also worth noting that, just a few weeks later, the possibility of invasion by the Germans was still being raised by local officials in the County in order to keep people fully alert. In March, 1915, for example, the Mayor of Kingston, Alderman C.H. Burge, appearing alongside Mr. George Cave (Kingston’s Member of Parliament) at a special screening of the War Office recruitment film Wake Up! in Kingston, commented that the film dealt with ‘the question of invasion’.

Burge said that the purpose of the film was ‘to bring home to the minds of a certain section of the community the very real danger that would follow invasion of this country’. He said that ‘those who thought everything would be all right’, and who thought that there was no need for special preparation, were ‘the dreamers upon whom ruin might descend’, and: ‘He wanted them to realise that the German armies were as near to them as the town of Bristol…’.

Keen to see as many local men as possible sign up for military service, both Burge and Cave echoed the title of the film being shown, and evidently wanted (as they saw it) to shake people out of their slumber and complacency and awaken them to their patriotic duty. The war, proclaimed Burge, ‘was a national work, and each one could do something to the best of his power and ability for the motherland’.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(All images: WikiMedia Commons)

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New Light on York House, Twickenham

Sometimes the history of a house can throw up all sorts of intriguing information about the past, including how a home can have both a ‘national’ history and also an ‘international’ dimension, drawing together politics, art and culture at various points in time. The stately home of York House, in Twickenham, near London, is arguably one such house.

York House Twickenham

Dedicated scholar Joe Fautley, a History postgraduate student in the History department at Kingston University in Surrey, has recently conducted some research for a new film project on the House, and has dug up some fascinating facts and insights on the impressive-looking building (see photograph) and its colourful past.

Built in the 17th century, the House stands at the end of a drive which is entered at the junction of Richmond Road and Church Street. It was acquired by Twickenham Borough Council in 1924 and, since 1965, it has been the busy Municipal Offices of Richmond-on-Thames Borough Council. It was also made a Grade II listed building in 1952, and a walk around the very fine ornate gardens (which are open to the public) helps the visitor to see why.

According to Joe, York House dates back to the 1630s and derives its name from the Yorke family, who were owners of local farming land. It was built for Andrew Pitcarne, a courtier of King Charles I. It was sold in 1656 to Edward Montagu, a landowner and army officer who had served Oliver Cromwell loyally in the 1650s but went on to play an important role in the plots that led to the restoration of King Charles II. Montagu later served as the British Ambassador to Portugal and then Spain in the 1660s.

The House then passed through several owners, including a female sculptor and an Austrian Ambassador to Britain. Interestingly, Joe has also found that the House was later acquired in 1864 by Prince Philippe of Orleans, grandson of the French King Louise Philippe I. In fact, three of Prince Philippe’s children were born at the House before the family returned back to France in 1870. One of the children was obviously so fond of the House, and the childhood he had there, that he later acquired and lived at the House from 1896 to 1906.

Sir Ratan Tata

Even more interestingly, the last private owner of York House was the famous Indian financier and philanthropist Sir Ratanji Tata (1871-1918), who gained his Knighthood in 1916. Tata (see painting), along with his brother Dorabji Tata, had been involved in numerous industrial enterprises for the improvement of life in India, including steel production and other large-scale projects. A notable connoisseur of the arts, Ratan Tata (as he was more commonly called in England) was responsible for the Italian-style gardens which can still be seen at York House today.

Well known for his generosity and appreciation of culture, paintings and education, Sir Ratanji also founded the Ratan Tata department of Social Science at the London School of Economics (LSE) and, in addition, established the Ratan Tata Fund at the University of London. He was especially keen to finance the study of the conditions of the poorer classes. He is buried at the famous Brookwood Cemetery at Woking, near London.

After it was acquired by Twickenham Council from Tata’s widow in 1924, the House continued to host all manner of activities. In August, 1926, Twickenham received its Charter of Incorporation, and in November the same year the new Borough held its first Council meeting at the House. The building was officially opened by the Duke of York (later George VI) on 16th November, 1926, and became the official Town Hall of the new Borough. During the interwar period, it was quite common for some of its large rooms to be hired out for major social, cultural or political functions and dances, and a number of national political campaigns and crusades were launched from large public meetings held at the House (local Municipal authorities were much more relaxed about hiring out their facilities for such activities back then).

Caine as Alfie

Joe’s research has also dug out some other intriguing historical facts about York House’s connections to all things cultural during the 20th Century. Shortly after the House came under the control of Richmond Borough Council in 1965, for example, it was used as one of the shooting locations for the ground-breaking film Alfie (1966), directed by the award-winning Lewis Gilbert and featuring rising star Michael Caine in the lead role (pictured). Conveniently located not far from Twickenham Film Studios at St. Margarets in Twickenham (where the movie production was based), York House was used as a sanatorium in the movie. After a shadow is found on his lung, Alfie recovers at the sanatorium, where he also seduces a fellow patent’s wife, Lily (played by Viviene Merchant). The film was one of the big box-office cinema hits of the 1960s, brought much critical acclaim for Caine, and its gritty and moving portrayal of working-class life and the scandal of back-street abortion in Britain helped pave the way for the government to introduce legislation to legalise abortion.

York House undoubtedly has plenty of other fascinating connections to both the distant and more recent past waiting to be uncovered, and who knows what else this truly historic House might throw new light on?

Joe Fautley has just completed his MA in History at Kingston University, Surrey. His other projects have included volunteering for the ‘Fighting for our Rights’ oral history project on disability in Kingston.

(Images: WikiMedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

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An Age of Rage? A historical perspective on anger

Are we living in an age of anger? Why does everyone seem so steamed-up, aggressive or furious about certain aspects of today’s society? These are some of the intriguing questions that were posed by Zoe Williams, writing in the UK’s daily newspaper The Guardian on 16th May.

Shouting-Man

Whether it is angry householders complaining about the behaviour of their neighbours, or motorists engaging in extreme road rage, or people venting their racism or sexism anonymously on social media, or populist politicians openly engaging in whipping up the fury of crowds, it does appear that there is something about early 21st century society that is making people more prone to angry outbursts or signs of greater impatience.

From a historian’s perspective, is it possible to understand this better by detecting similar cycles of anger when we look back at the past? One discipline that has caught the attention of some historians is known as ‘cliodynamics’, which was apparently developed at the turn of this century. It is something that I must admit is completely new to me, but makes for some fascinating reasoning.

According to the Guardian article by Williams, it was a discipline developed by scientist Peter Turchin, and it plots historical events by a series of mathematical measures: ‘These measures yield a map of history in which you can see spikes of rage roughly every 50 years: 1870, 1920, 1970…’. Cycles of rage and violence are not always unproductive – they take in civil rights, union and suffragette movements, and so on. In fact, the Turchin model points out that all social movements of consequence start with unrest or anger, ‘whether in the form of strike action, protest or riot’.

Interestingly, as Williams noted, some situate economics at the heart of the social mood, and it may possibly be that the modern world economy, as it goes through cycles of low and high growth over time, creates a kind of stagnation which can always correspond with unrest or anger.

As support for this, Williams pointed to the views on this theory put forward by David Andress, a professor of history at the University of Portsmouth and the author of Cultural Dementia. This book is about how the rage of the present time we live in may indeed have an ‘economics’ context, rooted in things such as the insecurity created by inequality: as Andress has argued, ‘Economics is about scarcity and insecurity turns very quickly into anger and scapegoating’.

As Andress has also noted, there are periods in history not marked by fury, of course, but it may be that modern conditions today – for various reasons, including a new sense of insecurity on the part of more and more people – are producing this latest cycle of anger and rage.

Another perspective on our current seeming ‘age of anger’, one that may also be useful for historians, comes from the discipline of psychology. Williams in her article pointed to the work of Aaron Balick, author of The Psychodynamics of  Social Networking, a book which has highlighted the new availability of social media. As Balick himself has commented: ‘I think for sure anger is more expressed. What you see of it is a consequence of emotional contagion, which I think social media is partly responsible for. There’s an anger-bandwagon effect: someone expresses it and this drives someone else to express it as well’.

Far Right demo in Charlotesville

Indeed, social media may have given us a way to transmute our anger to every area of life; more worryingly, the recent resurgence of the far right in Europe may be partly a result of them tapping into this seeming fury about all aspects of current life. Moreover, as Williams pointed out, writ large on a world stage, politicians like U.S. president Donald Trump or Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban may have found ways to exploit such anger and vent this unmediated fury for political effect.

That is certainly food for thought. So, are we in the latest ‘cycle of anger’? If so, a silver lining in this dark cloud must surely be that this anger will at some point begin to decline. The challenge is really trying to pin down when that will be.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: WikiMedia Commons)

 

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Down and Out? The Decline of the British National Party

The recent local Municipal and Mayoral elections in England on May 3rd saw the far right British National Party (BNP) lose its last elected district Councillor, Brian Parker, who sat on Pendle Borough Council in Lancashire. After serving three terms in office, Parker chose not to stand again, and the party could not find a candidate to replace him in the contest. For observers, it said much about the current state of the BNP.

BNP-rosette-

A number of media commentators and anti-fascist activists have taken great satisfaction from this. Nick Lowles, for example, of the campaigning group Hope Not Hate, issued a statement saying that the BNP had been ‘finished for a while’ as a political force in Britain but its demise was now ‘official’.

Indeed, in many ways, the BNP, now under the leadership of Adam Walker, a former teacher with a criminal conviction, has declined dramatically in recent years, and is seemingly on the point of collapse. In fact, some estimates put the present membership of the BNP as low as 300, which is a major drop from the 10,000 or so the party could once claim under the previous leader, Nick Griffin. In the last General Election in Britain, the BNP could only manage to field 10 candidates, who received an average vote of just 0.9%.

Placed into historical context, the recent decline of the BNP is even more marked. Originally founded in 1982 by John Tyndall, who had previously led the National Front during the 1970s, the BNP spent much of the 1980s and 1990s struggling to have an impact or make any significant electoral headway. Although the party won a single local Council seat in London’s East End during the early 1990s, it quickly lost it, and Tyndall’s reputation as an inflexible ‘racial nationalist’ with a suspicion of ‘electioneering’ did not help matters.

Nick Griffin VE Day

This appeared to change after Tyndall lost a leadership contest to Griffin in 1999. Griffin (see photo), a former Cambridge University graduate, set out to ‘modernize’ the party and move it away from its ‘neo-Nazi’ image. In the first decade of the 21st century, this new and more professional approach appeared to be working. The BNP became Britain’s most prominent and well-known far right party, winning up to 50 local Municipal Council seats, various Parish Council seats, and even a seat on the London Assembly in 2008. Even more shockingly, nearly 1 million votes cast for the party resulted in the BNP gaining two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in 2009. Against the odds, Griffin had managed to make the BNP into the most electorally successful extreme right party in British post-war history.

Historians of the far right watched all this with growing alarm. Was Britain now echoing similar patterns of growth in extreme right support found elsewhere in Europe? For a while, it appeared that a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances in Britain – economic problems, allegations of sleaze in Parliament, and continued panics over migration (often fuelled by the red-top newspapers) – would help the BNP make an even more dramatic ‘breakthrough’ at national Parliamentary level. The party itself had high hopes this would happen in the 2010 General Election, and mounted a huge propaganda effort.

bnp-election-poster-april-2010_w

But, thankfully, it did not win any seats, and since then – over the course of the last eight years – the BNP has seen infighting, loss of members and income, and serious fragmentation. In 2014, the party lost both of its MEPs, and Nick Griffin himself was also ejected out of his own party. In some ways, the BNP was only kept afloat by a series of big individual donations from elderly former members.

One consequence of all this has been the growth of numerous rival parties and groups to the BNP on the extreme right of the political spectrum, and a greater preparedness by far right activists and (in some cases) ex-BNP members to dismiss the electoral road and return back to a form of ‘street’ politics and direct confrontation with the state. Tellingly, Griffin has become very active in other countries, developing links with more explicitly neo-Nazi far right parties and figures in nations such as Hungary.

Moreover, it is now clear that some elements of the British far right, disappointed by the seeming failure of ‘ballot box’ parties like the BNP, are increasingly attracted to neo-Nazi terrorism. In late 2016, for example, the activities of a group called ‘National Action’ were sufficiently worrying that the Home Secretary decided to ban the group under terror legislation. Furthermore, as Mark Rowley, the outgoing assistant commissioner of the London Metropolitan police, commented earlier this year (in February, 2018), the extreme right terror threat is now ‘significant and concerning’.

Turning back to the BNP, the loss of its last Councillor is evidently a big blow to what is left of the party, and the BNP has tried to put a brave face on the loss. A BNP spokesman told the British media: ‘Brian Parker is the most successful BNP Councillor ever, serving three terms. We wish him well in his retirement’. The same spokesman also claimed the party still had ‘dozens’ of Councillors on Parish Councils: ‘Because our members are true patriots, they are honoured to serve their communities in the much under-appreciated positions as community, parish and town councillors. Over the years we have found that other political parties and indeed the media disgracefully discount these essential unpaid roles and are obsessed with paid positions only’.

One suspects that we have not yet seen the last of the BNP and, albeit in highly diminished form, it will hobble on, waiting in the wings to ruthlessly exploit any new uncertainties or economic crises that are bound to come in post-Brexit Britain.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: WikiMedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fears and Volunteers: Kingston and the General Strike of 1926

Just over ninety years ago this month, in May, 1926, Britain experienced a General Strike, called by the Trades Union Congress (T.U.C), and – for a few days at least – ‘normal’ life in the country was put on hold. In a previous blog I explored some of the impact of this strike on Surbiton. We can also trace some of the effects of the strike on nearby Kingston, as some of the official activities associated with trying to respond to the dispute embraced both towns.

The 1926 General Strike

The strike, which lasted from 3rd-12th May, saw ’emergency measures’ being put in place in Kingston from day one of the dispute (Monday 3rd).  Rightly or wrongly, there were genuine fears held by some members of the local town council that law and order might somehow break down and serious food shortages would occur. A representative from the central government came down to the Municipal Offices at Kingston and, with the assistance of the Mayor and the Town Clerk, the foundations were laid out for how the local network of the government’s ‘Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies’ (O.M.S.) and its volunteers could be organised to ensure food supplies and the maintenance of existing services.

An appeal was issued for more local volunteers in Kingston, who were asked to register at the Town Hall and other local Municipal Offices. It was decided that the most urgent requirements were for assistance in transport by road and rail, and the appeal stated that ‘offers of the use of motor vehicles will be especially welcome’.

Over the next two days (4th-5th May), the Town Hall was, according to the local Surrey Comet newspaper, ‘besieged by volunteers eager to help in the present crisis’. The paper noted that it was emphasised by the officials that ‘nothing in the nature of any attempt at strike-breaking was desired, the only purpose of the organisation being to maintain absolutely essential services’. In fact, in the Kingston district, by the Wednesday morning (5th May), a thousand volunteers had been registered, with the work divided up into clerical duties, motor-driving and general labour. As well as the main local police, the official ‘Special Constabulary’ was also called out for extra policing duties and used the Kingston Public Library’s lecture hall as their temporary headquarters. A number of volunteers were also enrolled as ‘Special Constables’, and equipped with emergency powers to detain troublemakers if necessary.

By 8th May, the Surrey Comet itself had been reduced in size and could only be published as an emergency edition. The paper’s mechanical printing staff, while showing loyalty to their Trade Union, had still allowed a special shorter version of the newspaper to come out, containing brief items of news about the progress of the strike. The Comet also posted news updates outside its offices in Clarence Street in Kingston.

The 1926 General Strike bus

The first two or three days did see some overcrowding on buses and considerable activity by volunteer car drivers, and the very few trains that ran into Waterloo were also very full. Overall, however, as with Surbiton, Kingston remained relatively quiet during the strike, with little sign that the lives of Kingstonians were being seriously effected or disrupted. As the Comet noted in its emergency edition: ‘There has been nothing in the nature of disorder in this district. The men as a rule have been loyal to their Unions, and have complied with the instructions given, though in many instances with very great reluctance’.

At the local utility depots in Kingston, there were some signs of tension, but nothing had really interfered with the supply of power to the town. Kingston Gas Company had managed to retain a full staff at work and had a good supply of coal, even though customers were still urged to make ‘greatest economy of use’. At the electricity plant, things were a bit more pressured, but still calm. Many of the workers at the electricity station had joined the strike, and had been replaced by 50 volunteers. Mr. T.A. Kingham, the Kingston Borough Electrical Engineer, admitted to the local press that he was having ‘a very strenuous time’, being practically chained to his office owing to depleted staff, but he was nevertheless ‘quite optimistic as to being able to keep up the supply of current’. He said he had been able to secure an adequate number of volunteers to ensure continuity of current.

Meanwhile, the local Conservative M.P for Kingston, Mr. F. G. Penny, issued an appeal to every citizen to ‘stand fast and be calm’ and to do ‘all in their power to assist the Prime Minister [Stanley Baldwin] in the very grave and anxious days which are undoubtedly before us’. He said he hoped ‘reason will prevail’ and a satisfactory solution would be found to end the dispute. Penny was also enrolled by the Mayor of Kingston as a temporary Special Constable, and immediately reported for duty.

Arguably one of the clearest signs of the strike in the town could be seen in the series of evening meetings arranged by the Kingston Strike Committee in conjunction with the local Kingston Labour Party. This series of meetings came to a climax on the first Saturday of the strike, when a ‘massed demonstration’ of the strikers of Kingston, Surbiton and Teddington was held in Kingston Market Place, in the centre of the town.

Estimated to be 1,000 in number, the crowd of strikers, which included men and women, heard a series of platform speakers. As the Surrey Comet noted: ‘Practically every speaker urged the strikers to keep calm and go about their legitimate duties as pickets and in other capacities in such a manner as not to arouse others to rowdyism, and to refrain from looting’.

In hindsight, there was very little likelihood of ‘rowdyism’ and looting breaking out in Kingston. The evidence suggests that many strikers were keen to get back to work as soon as possible, and there was probably a sense of relief when the T.U.C. called off the General Strike just a few days later.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: WikiMedia Commons)

 

 

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