When it comes to the threat of the BNP, it is important to build broad-based coalitions for tackling extremism. I very much welcome efforts like Nothing British from the democratic right of British politics, even if I might disagree with some of their analysis.
There have also been very few voices in the media seeking to explicitly legitimise the BNP.
It was not always like that. And Fabian Research Director Tim Horton reminds me that today is the 76th anniversary of one of the most shameful Daily Mail editorials ever published.
Martin Pugh's book on Britsh fascism Hurrah for the blackshirts! takes its title from the Mail's editorial of 15th January 1934, in which Lord Rothermere set out the case that the British Union of Fascists were:
"a well organised party of the right ready to take over responsibility for national affairs with the same directness of purpose and energy of method as Hitler and Mussolini have displayed"
In the piece, Rothermere argued that only fascism could stop Communism, and that the BUF were "Britain's only safeguard against such insanity".
Mosley had been a Labour MP. Lloyd George and George Bernard Shaw among those who spoke of their admiration for the fascist dictators. None of the parties in the inter-war period were free of the taint of anti-semitism, which could be expressed in very virulent form in public.
But it is probably fair to say that Establishment voices were often most vocal in their support for British fascism. The Conservative MP for Worcester claimed that ""Is it not a fact that ninety per cent of those accused of attacking Fascists rejoice in fine old British names such as Ziff, Kernstein and Minsky". That, and a collection of other pro-fascist statements from this period are documented here.
Lord Rothermere could stake a good claim to the most prominent public advocates of fascism, both in Europe and in Britain, virulently criticising British anti-fascists as fantasists.
They have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call "Nazi atrocities" which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence such as are inevitable among a nation half as big again as ours, but which have been generalized, multiplied and exaggerated to give the impression that Nazi rule is a bloodthirsty tyranny.
The German nation, moreover, was rapidly falling under the control of its alien elements. In the last days of the pre-Hitler regime there were twenty times as many Jewish Government officials in Germany as had existed before the war.
Rothermere also published a letter in the Daily Mirror on the 22nd January seeking fascist recruits:
Timid alarmists all this week have been whimpering that the rapid growth in numbers of the British Blackshirts is preparing the way for a system of rulership by means of steel whips and concentration camps.
Very few of these panic-mongers have any personal knowledge of the countries that are already under Blackshirt government. The notion that a permanent reign of terror exists there has been evolved entirely from their own morbid imaginations, fed by sensational propaganda from opponents of the party now in power.
As a purely British organization, the Blackshirts will respect those principles of tolerance which are traditional in British politics. They have no prejudice either of class or race. Their recruits are drawn from all social grades and every political party.
Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King's Road, Chelsea, London, S.W.
In my view it is a good thing that no national newspaper would today consciously advocate the cause of the BNP in such an explicit way.
One would certainly hope that the historic mistake will have long been the subject of some self-reflection at the Mail. (Just as I have written about the difficulties for the Fabian tradition of the Webbs and Shaw's desertion of democracy in the 1930s).
I have also argued before that one should now judge the newspaper by its contemporary output, not its historic affiliations, even when Mail voices like Peter Oborne do not extend that approach to others, as in his attack on Caroline Kennedy (in the Mail!) over her grandfather's support for Hitler.