League of Empire Loyalists

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The League of Empire Loyalists (LEL) was a British pressure group (also called a "ginger group" in Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations), established in 1954, which campaigned against the dissolution of the British Empire. The League was a small group of current or former members of the Conservative Party led by Arthur K. Chesterton, a former leading figure in the British Union of Fascists, who had served under Sir Oswald Mosley. The League found support from a number of Conservative Party members, although they were disliked very much by the leadership.[1]

Formation[edit]

Chesterton established the group in 1954 on the far right of the Conservative Party, effectively as a reaction to the more liberal forms of Toryism in evident at the time, as typified by the policies of R.A. Butler.[2] Chesterton feared the growth of both the Soviet Union and the United States and concluded that Bolshevism and American-style capitalism were actually in alliance as part of Jewish-led conspiracy against the British Empire, a mindset that informed the LEL from the beginning.[3] The wide-reaching critiques that this conspiracy theory utilised meant that the LEL won membership from various sectors of right-wing opinion including former BUF activists like Chesterton himself and Barry Domvile, traditionalist patriots like General Sir Richard Hilton and young radicals like John Tyndall, John Bean, Colin Jordan and Martin Webster.[4] Indeed in its early years the LEL succeeded in attracting some leading members of the establishment to its ranks, including Field-Marshal Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside, Lieutenant-General Sir Balfour Oliphant Hutchison and former British People's Party election candidate Air Commodore G.S. Oddie.[5]

Although the LEL actively supported an independent candidate who was a member at the Lewisham North by-election, 1957 it was not a political party.[6]

Stunts[edit]

They were well known for various stunts at Conservative Party meetings and conferences (acting as a constant irritant to the party). These stunts included hiding underneath the speaker platform overnight to emerge during the conference in order to put across their points. At the 1958 party Conference in Blackpool, George Irvine Finlay (who became Director of Organisation for the Scottish Conservatives) was involved in forcibly removing members of the League of Empire Loyalists. The widespread media coverage resulted in his being sued for assault; not only was he acquitted but costs were awarded against the prosecution.[7] That same year the League secured further publicity when members launched an "invasion" of the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion.[6]

Another incident saw LEL member Austen Brooks manage to gain access to a lunch for U Thant by impersonating Makarios III, both men being heavily bearded, before revealing his charade and shouting LEL slogans.[4] Sir Anthony Eden was also a target and when he shook hands with Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin as they arrived at Victoria Station in 1956 LEL members were on hand to yell at Eden that he had just shaken hands with murderers.[8] In November 1961 Wing-Commander Leonard Young gained further notoriety for the LEL when he threw a bag of sheep guts at President of Kenya Jomo Kenyata.[9] The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was also a target with speakers at its inaugural rally in Central Hall, Westminster, on 17 February 1958 being heckled, in particular Michael Foot.[10] After these antics the Tory leadership made it clear to their members that the LEL was to be discouraged, leading to a severe downturn in membership.[11]

Policies[edit]

As its name suggests the initial aim of the LEL was to support the British Empire and to campaign for its continuing existence.[6] It was to be its calls for the restoration of the empire and reassertion of the notion of English people as the world's natural leaders that ultimately saw the group become estranged from the Conservatives, as the League was increasingly divorced from the one nation conservatism that came to dominate the party.[12] This was particularly true following Harold Macmillan's Wind of Change speech in 1960 when the Tories formally broke from any notion of being the party of empire.[13]

As time progressed, the group became primarily concerned with opposing non-white immigration into Britain and were instrumental in the founding (with other right-wing and neo-Nazi groups) of the National Front in February 1967. Chesterton's personal anti-Semitism and devotion to conspiracy theories about the Jews and international capitalism also became more prominent in LEL ideology towards the end of the group's life.[14] The League was also strongly anti-communist and had close links with emigre groups such as the Ukrainian National Committee.[15] It also had a vague connection to the economic idea of distributism, inspired to an extent by A.K. Chesterton's familial relationship to G.K. Chesterton.[16]

Although sometimes labelled fascist according to historian Roger Eatwell: "Most of its 2000-3000 active members were Colonel Blimpish rather than fascist: in fact many of its members saw it as a Conservative ginger group... an attempt to keep the Conservatives true to the Imperial way."[17] Indeed it has also been argued that although parts of its ideology overlapped with fascism the LEL was in fact much too reactionary to be considered truly fascist, given the revolutionary nature of that ideology.[14]

Decline and splits[edit]

By 1961 the LEL found itself in financial trouble with Chesterton himself funding the group.[9] The group had also lost considerable membership, falling from a 1958 high of 3000 to only 300 members. Some had left with Hilton to join his Patriotic Party whilst another group of leavers had been the supporters of Colin Jordan. Jordan had left initially in 1957 after his call to bar Jews and non-whites from the LEL had been rejected whilst John Bean had left in acrimonious circumstances the following year. Both men advocated the formation of mass parties, an idea that Chesterton rejected, and over time they won support to their respective groups, the White Defence League and the National Labour Party by advocating these and other more radical ideas.[9]

By the mid 1960s the LEL was a shadow of its former self as, according to leading member Rodney Legg, it had come to be seen as archaic and anachronistic whilst it was struggling even more with a lack of funds.[18] Indeed by 1964 Chesterton was already being heard to say in private that the future of the LEL might be better served by joining up with the younger, more radical members who had departed earlier in the decade.[18] In an attempt to reinvigorate the flagging group Chesterton was persuaded to put up three "Independent Loyalist" candidates in the 1964 General Election but between them they managed to secure only 1064 votes.[19] According to Michael Billig the League only contested these seats as a public stunt rather than due to having any pretensions to becoming a political party.[20] The League's journal Candour went on to support the National Front while A.K. Chesterton was its leader. Following that it became independent, and is still published to this day.

Creation of the National Front[edit]

Despite the poor performances of the three candidates donations had poured in from all over the country to help them fight the campaign. This made a deep impression on Chesterton, who had largely been obliged to fund the LEL out of his own pocket.[19] Chesterton had been preoccupied with a legal case over the estate of his financial benefactor, the Chile-based millionaire Robert K. Jeffrey, who had seemingly left two contradictory wills, but Chesterton's fervour for politics had been rekindled by his discovery of the relative ease of funding a political party as well as by the emergence of Edward Martell, a right-wing libertarian who had garnered a reputation as an excellent fund-raiser and whose methods, if not politics, had impressed Chesterton greatly.[21] By the spring of 1966 Chesterton had begun sounding out the likes of Bean, Tyndall and even Jordan about the possibility of building a united front on the far right.[19]

Chesterton's mood was dampened somewhat by the 1966 general election in which the Labour Party won a convincing victory and anti-immigration candidates lost support, as well as by Rhodesia's exit from the Commonwealth following their Unilateral Declaration of Independence.[22] However it also convinced him that space had opened to the right of the Conservative Party and that the chances were better for a united far right group.[22] The LEL itself however was under threat from the growth of both the Racial Preservation Society and the Monday Club, making the need for a new party that much more urgent.[23] Around this time he flirted with Dr. David Brown of the Racial Preservation Society and his plans to establish a National Democratic Party but he backed away when Brown insisted that the LEL would effectively be turned over to RPS control in this arrangement.[24]

Discussions with the BNP began in earnest in September 1966 and by the time of the LEL conference the following month plans were already at such an advanced stage that the major topic was whether the new party would be called the British Front or the National Independence Party.[25] The conference also saw the establishment of a working party to thrash out details of the new group, consisting of Austen Brooks, Rosine de Bounevialle, Avril Walters and Nettie Bonner from the LEL and Philip Maxwell, Bernard Simmons and Gerald Kemp from the BNP.[25] On 7 February 1967 the LEL was officially wound up and replaced by the newly merged group, by now officially known as the National Front.[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ S. Taylor, The National Front in English Politics, London: Macmillan, 1982, p. 12
  2. ^ Martin Walker, The National Front, Glasgow: Fontana, 1977, pp. 28-29
  3. ^ Walker, The National Front, p. 29
  4. ^ a b Walker, The National Front, p. 30
  5. ^ John Bean, Many Shades of Black - Inside Britain's Far Right, London: New Millennium, 1999, p. 99
  6. ^ a b c David Boothroyd, The Politico's Guide to the History of British Political Parties, London: Politico's, 2001, p. 143
  7. ^ George Irvine Finlay Obituary, Herald, (05/01/1999)
  8. ^ Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain A History, 1918-1985, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987, p. 250
  9. ^ a b c Walker, The National Front, p. 31
  10. ^ Chris Wrigley, A.J.P. Taylor: Radical Historian of Europe, I.B.Tauris, 2006, p. 276
  11. ^ Taylor, The National Front in English Politics, p. 13
  12. ^ Martin Barker, The New Racism, London: Junction Books, 1982, p. 33-34
  13. ^ Ray Hill & Andrew Bell, The Other Face of Terror - Inside Europe’s Neo-Nazi Network, London: Collins, 1988, p. 81
  14. ^ a b Kenneth Lunn, Richard C. Thurlow, British fascism: essays on the radical right in inter-war Britain, Taylor & Francis, 1980, p. 213
  15. ^ Bean, Many Shades of Black, p. 101
  16. ^ Anthony Cooney, Distributism, Third Way Publications, 1998, p. 16
  17. ^ R. Eatwell, Fascism : A History, London: Pimlico, 2003, p.334
  18. ^ a b Walker, The National Front, p. 47
  19. ^ a b c Walker, The National Front, p. 48
  20. ^ Michael Billig, A Social Psychological View of the National Front, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978, p. 113
  21. ^ Walker, The National Front, pp. 48-49
  22. ^ a b Walker, The National Front, p. 50
  23. ^ Walker, The National Front, p. 61
  24. ^ Walker,The National Front, p. 64
  25. ^ a b Walker, The National Front, p. 65
  26. ^ Walker, The National Front, p. 67