John Beckett (politician)

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John Warburton Beckett
1929 John Warburton Beckett.jpg
Beckett in 1929
Member of Parliament
In office
1924–1929
Preceded by John Purcell Dickie
Succeeded by James Benjamin Melville
Constituency Gateshead
Member of Parliament
In office
1929–1931
Preceded by Hugh Dalton
Succeeded by Viscount Borodale
Constituency Peckham
Personal details
Born 11 October 1894
Died 28 December 1964 (aged 70)
Political party Independent Labour Party, British Union of Fascists, National Socialist League, British People's Party
Children Francis Beckett
Occupation soldier, politician

John Warburton Beckett (11 October 1894 – 28 December 1964) was a leading figure in British politics between the world wars, both in the Labour Party and Fascist movements.

Early life

Beckett was born in Hammersmith, London, the son of William Beckett, a draper, and his wife Dorothy (née Salmon), who had been born into Judaism but abandoned the faith to marry Beckett.1 According to his son Francis he was christened Jack William Beckett but assumed the name John Warburton Beckett in 1918.2 He was educated at The Latymer School until the age of 14 when his father lost all his money in a scheme ran by notorious swindler Horatio Bottomley and could no longer afford the fees; as a consequent the young John was forced to work as an errand boy.3 On the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted in the Middlesex Regiment before being transferred to the King's Shropshire Light Infantry soon afterwards. He was invalided out of the army in 1916 because of a heart defect.4

Early career

After serving in the army during the First World War Beckett set up the National Union of Ex-Servicemen in 1918 to look after the needs of the war veterans (although it was eventually absorbed into the later Royal British Legion having failed to gain Labour Party recognition).5 At this time he also joined the Independent Labour Party, sitting on Hackney Council from 1919 to 1922.5

Beckett first ran for Parliament at the 1923 general election but failed to capture Newcastle upon Tyne North.5 He was elected as Labour MP for Gateshead in 1924, moving to Peckham in 1929, after which he served as an ILP whip.5 In these early years Beckett was considered a close ally of Clement Attlee, alongside whom he had worked as a Labour Party agent before his election to Parliament.5 He achieved notoriety in 1930 when he lifted the Ceremonial mace during a Commons debate over the suspension of Fenner Brockway and it had to be wrestled away from him at the door.5 As a campaigner Beckett was noted for his fiery, passionate speeches.6 Beckett opposed Ramsay MacDonald's formation of the UK National Government and returned to the ILP fold in 1931, failing to hold his seat, with the vote split between three "Labour" candidates. Retiring from active politics he visited Italy where he was impressed by the corporate state that had been set up.5

Fascism

Beckett joined the British Union of Fascists in 1934 and before long had risen through the party to become Director of Publications (serving as an editor of both BUF publications, Action and Blackshirt, for a time).5 He gained some notoriety for his activism, notably when he was arrested outside Buckingham Palace during the Edward VIII abdication crisis7 and also for being the only BUF activist to win a court case against their opponents, securing £1000 in damages in a slander suit against an anti-fascist organisation (although it disbanded before payment was collected).8 Beckett however struggled to reconnect with his former supporters on the Left and in 1934 when he returned to Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne for speaking engagements he was met with large hostile crowds and shouts of traitor.9

After initial successes the BUF began to flounder and the BUF began to devolve into two factions, a militarist one led by Neil Francis Hawkins and F.M. Box and a more political one that hoped to convert the masses to fascism under Beckett and William Joyce.10 In 1937 Oswald Mosley sacked Beckett from his salaried position, in part because of a lack of funds but also due to Mosley's increasing support for the Hawkins wing.11 Beckett soon returned to politics by forming the National Socialist League along with William Joyce, although his membership did not last long as he left the League in 1938, disillusioned by Hitler and arguing that Joyce was being too extremist in his public anti-Semitic outbursts.12

Whilst a leading figure in the League he was also prominent in the British Council Against European Commitments, an attempt by Viscount Lymington to establish an umbrella movement of right-wingers opposed to war with Germany.13 He continued his close association with Lymington after his departure from the League, and the pair launched a journal, The New Pioneer, which tended to reflect a strongly anti-Semitic and pro-German world view.14 He left the journal in mid 1939 to become Honorary Secretary of the British People's Party (BPP), a newly established party controlled by Lord Tavistock.15

Beckett was one of a number of leading fascists and rightists to be interned under Defence Regulation 18b during the Second World War.16 He spent his internment in HM Prison Brixton, an internment camp on the Isle of Man and then back in Brixton, being moved each time after clashing with BUF members with whom he was imprisoned.17 Whilst imprisoned Beckett had received instruction from a Catholic chaplain and subsequently converted to Catholicism.18 He was released before the end of the war on account of ill health.19 On his release Beckett reactivated the BPP and represented the group in talks with A.K. Chesterton, who had organised a group which he called "National Front After Victory" in the hopes of developing a united far-right group that could contest the first post-war election. The scheme was not a success and Beckett rejected the merger.20

Post-war activity

Beckett's first major post-war role was in leading a campaign for clemency for his erstwhile colleague William Joyce, who was facing the death penalty for treason.21 The campaign was not a success however and Joyce was duly executed. In 1946 Beckett co-operated with a young Colin Jordan and gave him a seat on the BPP national council but the association was short-lived as Jordan soon made Arnold Leese his mentor.22

In 1953 Lord Tavistock, who by that time had become Duke of Bedford, died and the BPP, which he continued to fund, was wound up.23 Beckett's income was thus stopped (he was salaried as BPP leader) and the new Duke, who did not share his father's politics, moved to evict Beckett from his home on the family's estate.24 Beckett started a stock exchange tip magazine called Advice and Information25 and eventually bought Thurlwood House, where he had been living, from the estate trustees in 1958.26

Having sold the house and returned to London in 1962 Beckett was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1963.27 He survived until the following year, dying on 28 December. He was cremated.28

Personal life

The Beckett family had originated from rural Cheshire whilst his mother was the daughter of a Jewish jeweller, with her family refusing to attend the wedding.1 Whilst in the army Beckett had met and very quickly married Helen Shaw, who became his wife only four days after they first met.29 The couple had a daughter Lesley but split in the mid 1920s due to Beckett's infidelity.30 His second wife was Kyrle Bellew, a stage actress from a well-known acting dynasty. The marriage was short-lived although Bellew refused to divorce Beckett despite them living apart for eighteen years.31 He subsequently lived with Anne Cutmore, and their son Francis was born in 1945, although they were not officially married until 1963.31 Cutmore was for a time secretary to Robert Forgan at BUF headquarters.32

References

  1. ^ a b Francis Beckett The Rebel Who Lost His Cause — The Tragedy of John Beckett MP, London: Allison and Busby, 1999, p. 13
  2. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, pp. 20-21
  3. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, pp. 15-16
  4. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, pp. 18-19
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Robert Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, London, 1969, p. 113
  6. ^ Martin Pugh, Hurrah For The Blackshirts! Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars, Pimlico, 2006, p. 133
  7. ^ Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, p. 114
  8. ^ Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, pp. 269-271
  9. ^ Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain A History, 1918-1985, Basil Blackwell, 1987, p. 101
  10. ^ Thurlow, Fascism in Britain A History, p. 141
  11. ^ Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers on the Right, Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 278
  12. ^ Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, pp. 287-288
  13. ^ Griffiths, Fellow Travellers on the Right, p. 322
  14. ^ Griffiths, Fellow Travellers on the Right, pp. 324-328
  15. ^ Griffiths, Fellow Travellers on the Right, p. 328
  16. ^ Thurlow, Fascism in Britain A History, p. 212
  17. ^ Graham Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the Resurrection of British Fascism After 1945, IB Tauris, 2007, p. 13
  18. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, p. 189
  19. ^ Thurlow, Fascism in Britain A History, p. 227
  20. ^ Thurlow, Fascism in Britain A History, pp. 241-242
  21. ^ Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, p. 34
  22. ^ Martin Walker, The National Front, Fontana, 1977, p. 28
  23. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, p. 194
  24. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, p. 195
  25. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, pp. 197-198
  26. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, p. 204
  27. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, p. 212
  28. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, p. 213
  29. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, p. 20
  30. ^ Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, pp. 57-58
  31. ^ a b Beckett, The Rebel Who Lost His Cause, p. 10
  32. ^ David Pryce-Jones, Unity Mitford, London: Star Books, 1978, p. 101

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Purcell Dickie
Member of Parliament for Gateshead
19241929
Succeeded by
Sir James Melville
Preceded by
Hugh Dalton
Member of Parliament for Peckham
19291931
Succeeded by
David Beatty







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