Francis Beckett

So where were the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council when the right launched its vicious and ugly anti-Semitic campaign against Ed Miliband, then Labour leader?
If you don’t remember it, or didn’t notice it, that’s because it was never called out. No press statements, no demonstrations outside Parliament or the offices of the Daily Mail, no angry spokespeople saying no Jew could ever vote Conservative again just before an election.
In fact, a leading official of the Board of Deputies went on the radio to try to defend the Daily Mail’s contribution – on behalf of his employer, the Daily Mail.
Yet it was unmistakeable.  The subtext to the media campaign against Ed Miliband for failing to eat a bacon sandwich elegantly was just as clear as was the anti-Semitic nature of that picture which Jeremy Corbyn, to his shame, endorsed without looking at properly.
Cirbyn has apologised, rightly.  The Daily Mail has never apologised for an article about Ed Miliband’s father which told us, correctly, that Ralph Miliband was an immigrant Jew who fled Nazi persecution. A couple of paragraphs further on, in case we have forgotten that he wasn’t really English, we read about “the immigrant boy whose first act in Britain was to discard his name, Adolphe, because of its associations with Hitler, and become Ralph”.
It followed Ralph Miliband to Cambridge, where he was no doubt taught by several tutors, but only one of them is mentioned: the Jewish Harold Laski, “whom some Tories considered to be a dangerous Marxist revolutionary . . . One is entitled to wonder whether Ralph Miliband’s Marxism was actually fuelled by a giant-sized social chip on his shoulder as he lived in his adoptive country.” What exactly is the purpose of the last seven words of that sentence?
Calling Ed Miliband “weird” was another code, and the argument that we should have had David Miliband, not Ed, because he looked and sounded less weird, was a coded way of saying that he looked and sounded less Jewish.
Yet the only notice anyone from the Board of Deputies of British Jews seems to have taken was when one of its senior officials, Alex Brummer, tried to defend the Ralph Miliband article on the rad
Brummer was, and is, the paper’s economics editor, and he was presumably put up to do the media interviews because, unlike the editor and political editor, he is Jewish, and a Jewish community leader at that.
Anti-Semitism is loathsome, wherever it is found.  All I am asking is that the Board of Deputies should seek to hold the right to the same standards to which it seeks to hold the left.
As no less an authority than Deborah Lipstadt, the pre-eminent historian on Holocaust denial, has said, “It has been so convenient for people to beat up on the left, but you can’t ignore what’s coming from the right.”


One day in about 1934, a leading Catholic was considering joining the British Union of Fascists, and went to Oswald Mosley’s headquarters in Kings Road Chelsea to see a senior fascist whom he happened to know.

He said he was worried about the idea that if the leader said it, that was that. His fascist friend replied that the Catholic was prepared to accept revealed truth in religious matters; why not in politics too? The Catholic said: “I don’t mind the Pope laying down a dogma every 1,000 years, but I’m not having Tom Mosley lay one down every five minutes.”  (Mosley was known to his friends as Tom.)
I don’t know who the Catholic was, but the fascist, from whom I heard the story, was my father, John Beckett, and a decade or so later, when fascism had failed him, he too turned to the Catholic Church.
My father had a point. Fascism is different from other political isms.  If I tell you that someone is a socialist, or a libertarian, or a communist, you know roughly what principles would govern that person’s perfect society. If I tell you someone is a fascist, all you know is that the person has put their faith in a leader. You don’t argue with the leader, any more than you argue with the Pope. Fascism is as near as you get in politics to the idea of revealed truth.
I am not arguing Catholics are fascists, or religious folk are fascists. But the good fascist, like the good Catholic, must contract out his thinking.  “I am done with those who think” said Mosley on the day that he abandoned democratic politics for fascism.  “Henceforth I shall go with those who feel.” Those who feel but do not think require someone to do their thinking for them, and that, in Mosley’s view, was what the Leader (it always has an upper case L in fascist circles) was for.
That might help to explain the prevalence of superstition among top fascists. Mosley’s three top propagandists were Beckett; William Joyce, who went to Germany in 1940 and broadcast for Hitler throughout the war, becoming known as Lord Haw Haw, and was hanged in 1946; and A.K. Chesterton, who in 1967 was to found the National Front.
All three were intensely superstitious men. Among many other odd things – ghosts and strange bumps in the night and table rapping – all three believed that Chesterton’s wife Doris was a medium who could foretell the future.
My father told me a story of how he had once visited the Chestertons,
and found them surprised to see him because Doris had predicted
that he would by now have murdered someone and been on trial for his life. And the extraordinary thing (you’re way ahead of me) is that
just the previous week, he had come within an inch of murdering

Years later I discovered from Mary Kenny’s biography of Joyce
that he told the same story about himself. Then, rooting around
among Chesterton’s papers for my new book, I found this, about a woman Chesterton believed was a medium (the Daily Mail denounced her as a fraud, and she lost a libel action over it): 

“One morning… I had occasion to suffer… an outburst of such blinding rage that I could not only have committed murder but was brought to the very verge of doing just that….  No sooner had I arrived at my office than Powell phoned me. ‘We have been very worried.  Did anything happen to you just before five to nine?’ ‘Why do you ask?’ ‘Mrs Meurig Morris was having breakfast with us. She suddenly got up and said, Oh my God, Mr Chesterton, and fell in a dead faint.’ Once again there is the fact - without explanation.”

Maybe it happened to all three of them. Maybe it happened to
one of them, and the others appropriated the story. Maybe it never
happened at all. How should I know? The spirits don’t confide
in me.
The military strategist Major General J.F.C. “Boney” Fuller, Mosley’s confidante and his only senior military supporter, who thought the League of Nations was “a pink Jew-Bolshevik baby” and that “mentally and morally, the Jew does not fit into the Christian World Order”, was an occultist, associated with Aleister Crowley, the self-styled apocalyptic “beast”. Fuller was the founding chancellor of a spiritual order which Crowley founded to reform the British occult society, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He helped Crowley launch his spiritual movement, Thelema.
In 1945 Fuller helped found something called the Constitutional Research Association, and in his speech to the inaugural meeting “he foresaw disaster after disaster for the world until it acknowledged that there were superior men and inferior men, and saw to it that the superior men were permitted to take their natural place in the leadership of the world.”
He didn’t address the problem of distinguishing inferior from superior men, nor who might undertake this delicate task, but I don’t suppose elections were Fuller’s preferred method. I suspect that making this distinction required the services of a supreme being.  His decision on who was the superior man would have to be final, and asking the people would be at best unnecessary, at worst dangerous.
But secular governments in Europe after 1945 persisted in the error of asking the people. On January 6, 1956, the Catholic Herald’s front page lead story carried perhaps the most revealing headline ever written. A report of the French elections, in which the Catholic-supported party had been soundly defeated, was headlined:
Exactly twenty years before, the Catholic Church had been up to its neck in General Franco’s campaign to prevent the Spanish people from failing Spain by electing a government of which the Catholic Church disapproved. 
The Church unerringly and enthusiastically took the side of dictatorship against democracy. Not every Catholic supported this, but the hierarchy allowed, even encouraged, Franco to present himself as a Christian crusader holding back the forces of Antichrist and Communism. 
We hear a lot about the International Brigades who fought for Republican Spain, but there were foreign volunteers – nothing like so many, of course – who travelled to Spain to fight for Franco.  By far the biggest contingent was from Ireland – 700 volunteers, and Ireland could have sent more if Franco had bothered to send ships to collect them. They were recruited and led by Ireland’s fascist leader General Eoin O’Duffy, who saw it as an act of Catholic solidarity.
England provided very little support for Franco, except for a few wealthy English Catholics who made Franco’s rebellion possible, by arranging to fly the generalissimo from the Canary Islands to Morocco, so that he could take charge of the army of Africa.  These included Douglas Jerrold, editor of the English Catholic Review. He was recruited for the task by the head of the nationalist press office, Luis Bolin, whose perfect English had been learned at the British Jesuit public school, Stonyhurst – which educated many of Franco’s key officers.
Jerrold in his 1938 book The Future of Freedom: Notes on Christianity and Politics, wrote: "Christians not only can but must wish and pray for General Franco's success".
Franco, of course, was quite happy to strike bargains with any religion: he bought the loyalty of his Moroccan troops partly by enforcing Sharia law in Morocco.
Of course, not all Catholics supported Franco, and it does not follow that if you support an authoritarian religion, you will support authoritarian politics. My friend, the late Harry Conroy, who was general secretary of the National Union of Journalists and later editor of the Scottish Catholic Observer, was the sort of rigid Catholic who could, and did, say: “It’s what the Pope says, that’s good enough for me.” But no fiercer defender existed of democracy and of the underdog than Harry Conroy.
Nor does it follow that fascism is in some way religious. It isn’t, and one of the 20th century's most fearsome authoritarian regimes, that of Stalin, was officially atheist. Stalin, too, relieved his people of the burden of thinking for themselves, and in Britain at least, in the 1930s and 1940s, there was a good deal of traffic between the Catholic Church and the Communist Party.
But religion – all religion – relies on revealed truth.  No one any longer claims that there is an a priori process that will lead you to religion.  At some stage, anyone who believes in God has to take someone else’s word for it, or believe they are in touch with God.
And fascism also relies on taking someone else’s word for it. It’s authoritarian by definition.  In fact, you could argue that authoritarianism is its only defining characteristic, though it generally also involves blaming people of another race for whatever is wrong in the world.
That makes it infinitely adaptable, and it doesn’t always come labelled “fascism.” Professor Halford E. Luccock of Yale Divinity School said in a 1938 sermon: “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labelled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.'”
Enter the author of “Put America first” and “Make America great again.” Donald Trump’s way with hecklers was Oswald Mosley’s way. Trump, like Mosley, was the leader of his movement because he was the money, and Trump, like Mosley, identified racial enemies, at whose door all the hardships and frustrations of voters’ lives could be laid: Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, "illegals", the "liberal elite", Washington.
Trump, like Mosley, owes his rise to having sold the idea that the world would be a better place without democratic politicians, without all the grubby compromises that democratic politics demands.
Trump also asks his supporters to contract out their thinking to him, and they do it.
And this is much easier to do if you are a person of faith. Four in five white evangelicals who cast a vote in the presidential election voted for Trump, according to the exit polls. This group tends to vote Republican, but this was the highest proportion the Republican candidate received since 2004.  Stranger still, Catholics went for Trump by 52% to 45% - compared with the last two presidential elections when Catholics voted for Obama by margins of 9% in 2008 and 2% in 2012.
Of course, evangelicals and Catholics were partly motivated by their wish to impose their religious views in the matter of abortion on the rest of America.
And yet. Trump is not a religious man, and you cannot imagine evangelicals and Catholics voting en masse for any other politician who was caught talking about using his fame to grab women “by the pussy.” Part of his attraction to them must be that he offers a total answer, and the answer is him.  You can sub-contract your thinking to him. It’s almost as good as having a religion.

•    Francis Beckett’s book about his father is Fascist in the Family (Routledge, 2016.)

Seumas Milne is not a likeable man and his political judgement is - to put it mildly - fallible. So I was ready to believe people when they said his lobby briefing on Russia was a puiblic scandal.

Then I looked up what he actuially said:

‘The Government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don’t. However, also there is a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly.  If the material is from the Soviet period, the break-up of the Soviet state led to all sorts of military material ending up in random hands.’

Every word of that is incontestably true. No one - not even Theresa May - denies any one of those facts.

The government may have firm evidence that the Russian state was behind the Salisbury attacks, but if it has, it hasn't yet shared that evidence with us - perhaps for good reasons.

The British security services did collaborate in a document which backed up Tony Blair's false claim to have evidence that Saddam Husein had weapons of mass destruction.

That did undermine our faith in the security servijces, and it does mean that we want evidence before taking their unsupported word that this or that country did this or that dreadful thing. 

And Milne's last sentence contains a terrible truth, which we all know, and which we don't think about too much, because if we did, we'd be permanently terrified.

When Prime Ministers are really in trouble, they need a war, or at least a foreign enemy to demonise. So I watch Theresa May’s war of words with Russia a little more sceptically than the British media seems inclined to do.

First, I ask the question that former British ambassador Craig Murray is asking. Why has no one mentioned the fact that the nerve agent with which Sergei Skripal and his daughter were attacked is not just manufactured in Russia – but also in Porton Down, just eight miles from where Skripal was attacked. And that the British security services – who are not squeamish about their methods – are just as likely to have wanted Skripkal dead as the Russian ones.
“The idea that the elaborate spy games between world intelligence agencies are a battle between right and wrong, is for the story books” says Murray. 
Second, I wonder about the glee with which the British media contemplate the shutting down of Russia Today.  They claim to care about a free media. Well, to advocate shutting down a newspaper or broadcasting station whose output you dislike doesn’t demonstrate much of a commitment to freedom and plurality of the media.
So I listened with embarrassment to John Humphries on Today this morning, waxing indignantly self-righteous about Russia Today.  They’ve had Ofcom ruling against them, haven’t they? So has the BBC. 
Humphries claimed they’d never allow anyone to call Putin a dictator on Russia Today; but they would, and they do. I’ve been on Russia Today, and I’ve said things about Russia and the Ukraine which, had they been listening, would have infuriated the Russian government, but they go out nonetheless.
No one mentioned that BBC journalism died the day they corporation apologised and fired its chairman and chief executive for offending the then Blair government about its Iraq war.  There are still good people working in BBC journalism, but that day, the day they surrendered to government bullying, free BBC journalism suffered a blow from which it has never recovered.


We’ve been treated to the strange sight of the Daily Mail feigning horror at someone’s fascist past. Of course, they have a reason. Max Mosley has funded and supported Impress, the sort of press regulator Lord Leveson called for in his report, and newspaper proprietors hate. He’s depicted as an enemy of press freedom; actually he fights media bullying.
So let me tell you about Mosley’s fascist past, as only I can do.  I know where Max Mosley was in the fifties, because, spiritually, I was there too.
Children pick up their parents’ ideas by a sort of osmosis. They don’t know they’re doing it. And precisely because they haven’t thought the ideas through, they can, if they are intelligent and instinctively loyal, take them on in a ludicrously exaggerated way.
When I was a teenager, I was certain, in a way I cannot now understand, that the holocaust (I never called it that) was invented by the Jews to further their plan for world domination, and that they had persecuted and imprisoned my father for trying to expose their nefarious schemes.  There was much else besides; but that will do as an indication of the poison in my mind.
My father, John Beckett, was Oswald Mosley’s chief propagandist in the 1930s and edited Mosley’s newspapers. Like Mosley, he was interned during the second world war. I loved my father and believed he had been persecuted by the Establishment and the Jews.
By the time I was 20, I was completely cured (I think cured is the right word). With Max Mosley, it lasted a little longer. That’s easily explained.  My father died in my late teens; Mosley’s father lived well into his adult life.  My father had given up politics well before he died; Mosley’s father was still making absurd attempts at a comeback, and wanted his son at his side.
And, at a London further education college and at Keele University, I met a couple of great teachers who taught me to think.
For Mosley – whom I do not know, but I think I understand – it would have been a matter of loyalty.  You do not abandon your father at his lowest ebb.  If my father had fought a bye-election, as Mosley’s father did, I would have been at his side. 
And the evidence, should any newspaper have a motive to discredit me, would be available to it.
* Francis Beckett’s Fascist in the Family is published by Routledge.