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Major General Hilton

The conspiracy theories advanced through Candour and in The New Unhappy Lords in regard to Rhodesia and imperial decline more generally echoed the work of earlier conspiratorial antisemites such as Nesta Webster. Yet Chesterton’s work was markedly more comprehensive, detailed and articulate, not least because of his long experience as a journalist. His work also inspired and influenced others in the postwar period. One such person was Major General Richard Hilton, a sporadic contributor to Candour in the late 1950s,” briefly a member of the LEL General Council and later of the BNP and the NF and author of Imperial Obituary: The Mysterious Death of the British Empire. It was published in 1968 by the long-time purveyor of extreme antisemitism, the Britons Publishing Company. While paying glowing tributes to the work of Nesta Webster and lauding the ‘enlightened patriots’60 in the LEL, Hilton’s book is part glorification of imperial successes and part lament at its decline. According to Hilton, Britain’s imperial collapse was brought about by the undermining of British national character.61 This was achieved by a ‘surgical operation on the nation’s political brain’62 carried out by Fabianism and the London School of Economics and made irreversible by a ‘torrent of coloured immigration’.63 The latter, in turn, would ‘eventually destroy the whole character of the British nation’.64 While no mention ofjews is explicitly made, the perpetrators of this plot are the usual suspects, namely Bernard Baruch'” and ‘international finance’ that was based in - and controlled by - the United States.“’ In the words of Hilton: ‘These plans necessitated for a start the downfall of the British people and the destruction of their empire’.67 His accompanying description of the conspiracy’s perpetrators is a near carbon-copy to that espoused by Chesterton, though some specifics vary such as Hilton’s greater emphasis upon the alleged mass-psychological degradation of the British people as a whole. He was also far more restrained when openly mentioning the role of the Jews than was Chesterton. However his membership of the LEL, BNP and the NF - and his selection of publisher, The Britons Publishing Society - leave little doubt about who Hilton was referring to when he spoke of‘international financiers’.

Influence of Chesterton: then and now

Despite imperial decline rarely being of primary importance to the British far right, the ideas and theories of Chesterton did have a serious influence on the movement. His obsession with reversing imperial decline was not just popular with some far-right activists but right across society. It is for this reason that despite his overt antisemitism and open fascist past and affiliations he drew supporters from a range of sources. The armed forces proved fertile recruitment grounds for the LEL, with those who had actively fought in defence of the British Empire during the First and Second World Wars understandably more receptive to Chesterton’s message. As might be expected, many rank and file soldiers became members of the League in response to the disintegration of the imperial power that they had fought to maintain only a few years earlier. Importantly, it seems that the allure of the League’s simplistic, monocausal explanation - and the provision of a Jewish scapegoat -for imperial decline attracted some prominent and decorated ex-servicemen. In addition to Major General Hilton, the LEL’s General Council included decorated servicemen from both world wars, including General Sir Hubert Gough, who was famously Commander of the Fifth Army in World War I; Capt Arthur Rogers, a member of the Imperial General Staff; Major General RJ. Mackesy, who was Land Commander for the Norway Campaign in World War II; and Lieutenant General Sir Balfour Hutchinson, who was General Officer Commanding Sudan and Eritrea and Quartermaster General of India during World War II. Yet of all the ex-servicemen who joined the League there is no doubt that Field Marshal Lord Ironside of Archangel was the most significant. Having been Chief of the Imperial General Staff for the first year of World Wir II, he joined the LEL’s General Council in the middle of 1956. While the degree of these military figures’ involvement in the running of the LEL remains open to question, their very membership no doubt provided the League with significant propaganda material.

Alongside the military, another fruitful recruiting ground for the LEL were the ranks of the Conservative Party. In 1955 one Mr Adamson of the Conservative Party wrote: ‘It is a fact that many sincere Conservatives are members of the League of Empire Loyalists because of their belief in the Empire’.68 By 1956 in the wake of the Suez fiasco, the LEL could legitimately be viewed as a ginger group on the right of a Conservative Party that had alienated many of its more hard-line supporters with its adoption of the consensual politics of Butskellism. If one strips away the often cloaked insinuations of antisemitism and conspiracy, the exoteric message of Empire loyalism was extremely attractive to the traditional Conservative supporter. In response, the Rt Hon. Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith MP was alive to the LEL’s growing influence, writing: ‘They realise that their path to notoriety lies through the Conservative Party whose members naturally react to Empire Loyalty’.69 The LEL’s bellicose attitude, coupled with their persuasive, monocausal hypothesis for imperial decline, wooed many amongst the Tory grass roots. Above all, however, it was the Young Conservatives who became particularly enamoured by the message of the LEL - causing some alarm among the more seasoned party operators at the Central Office: ‘Their Empire theme, outdated though it may be, appeals to the young and ex-officers, the latter being a disgruntled class. The League is at the moment proselytising the Young Conservative movement’.70 The Rt Hon. Dorman-Smith MP, a former member of the English Mistery,'1 went as far as to say, ‘They have raped my Young Conservative Branch!’72

However, the LEL’s influence in the party encompassed more than just the youth movement, with some evidence suggesting that it may have had sympathisers higher up in the party. The League’s seeming ability to infiltrate and attend any Conservative Party meeting - including the ticket-only events such as the Party Conference - and the fact that it received important leaked internal information in advance of its public release7-’ suggests the LEL received covert support from some MPs and prominent Conservative party members.74 It is also beyond question that many members of the National General Council of the LEL remained active and well-known Conservative Party members.75

Perhaps more important than the LEL’s connections with either the army or the Conservative party was the influence enjoyed by A.K. Chesterton and his conspiracy theories on the British far right. The League’s most enduring legacy has been the rather dubious honour of being the birthing pool and training ground for the most influential British fascists of the 1970s and 1980s. Four of Britain’s most notorious fascists, as well as scores of rank and file members, have all passed through the League, schooled in Chesterton’s antisemitic conspiratorial curriculum. John Tyndall, later a leader of the National Front, took his first real political footsteps as a member of the League and as a contributor to Candour in 1957.76 In 1971 he declared, ‘Without hesitation, what understanding of political affairs I have I owe much more to A.K. than to any other person’.77 As well as being the first leader of the NF, Chesterton’s ideological influence upon the National Front echoed on for years, not least in Tyndall’s decision to advocate a policy of neo-imperialism.78 This decision led to the formation of NF branches in South Africa and Australia. Tyndall continued to recommend the work of A.K. Chesterton right up to his death in 2005.79 Tyndall jointly chaired the NF until 1974 with Martin Webster, who was also a former LEL member and contributor to Candour.*0 For his part, he described the work of Chesterton as ‘very important’, claiming that it had ‘a tremendous impact’.81 In addition, John Bean, founder of the National Labour Party, which later merged with the White Defence League to form the original British National Party in 1960, emerged out of the ranks of the LEL to form a career as a major figure on Britain’s political periphery. Finally, Colin Jordan, who wrote for Candour in the mid 1950s82 and was the LEL’s Midlands organiser, became perhaps Britain’s most notorious Nazi and antisemite.

Chesterton’s influence has not waned within the British far right, continuing to resonate amongst contemporary far-right parties, such as the British National Party and its now deposed leader, Nick Griffin.83 The New Unhappy Lords continued to appear on BNP book lists well after Nick Griffin became chairman in 1999, while Chesterton’s less well-publicised sequel, Facing the Abyss, was both publicised and favourably reviewed.84 Additional evidence that contemporary antisemitic conspiracy theories, as elucidated by Chesterton, still influence Britain’s far right is provided by the regular republication of his work. Most recently, the fifth edition of The New Unhappy Lords was released in 2013, containing a new foreword by former BNP МЕР, Andrew Brons.85

As well as within the UK, Chesterton’s work has gained an audience and degree of international influence. Graham Macklin demonstrates that ‘Chesterton had a discernable and enduring ideological impact on a number of far-right activists and organizations on both sides of the Atlantic’86 such as Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby and the Defenders of the American Constitution. Beyond this transatlantic influence, Chesterton’s ideas were exported from Britain to the dominions and commonwealth. In addition to the local groups in Britain, the LEL had an extensive network of active foreign branches. There were eight branches in Kenya alone, accompanied by multiple branches in New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, the Central African Federation (Rhodesia and Nyasaland), India and several others dotted around the world, meaning that while the LEL’s membership remained small in the UK, it may have had more than double its amount of support abroad.87

Macklin has also shown how Chesterton influenced Hendrik Johan van den Bergh (1914-1997), the head of the South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS). While it remains unclear just how much influence his conspiratorial ideas had, it seems that ‘the book [The Neu> Unhappy Lords] did have an impact upon the intellectual framework through which van den Bergh understood the nature of “subversion”’.88

 
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