Blackshirts and White Wigs: Reflections on Public Order Law and the Political Activism of the British Union of Fascists
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While domestic fascism within the United Kingdom has never critically challenged Parliamentary sovereignty, it has decisively disrupted public order since its roots were established in the inter-war political scene. The violence provoked by Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) was one of the stimulating factors behind the enactment of the Public Order Act 1936. This Act significantly strengthened the powers of the police to regulate or proscribe varies forms of political activism. This thesis analyses the legal responses of Parliament, the police and the judiciary to interwar British fascism. In addition, by analysing the legal responses to public disorder from before and after the 1930s, it positions the BUF within their wider historical context which enables this thesis to assess and evaluate consistencies and discrepancies within the application of the law. By enhancing the historical contextualisation of the period with a critical legal lens, the principal forms of fascist propaganda are evaluated, including public processions, public meetings and the wearing of political uniform. It is argued that the application of a historico-legal methodology challenges the perception that the authorities were inherently politically biased. This thesis explores alternative factors which explain why the responses of the legal authorities appeared inconsistent in their approach to the far-Right and the far-Left. In order to critically analyse the police’s decision making process when monitoring political activism, the limitations of public order law and the nature of police discretion itself become fundamental components which offer a more balanced explanation for the appearance of political partiality within the police force.
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