The most notorious expression of anti-Semitic sentiment in interwar Britain was the creation and rise of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) by Oswald Mosley. Mosley founded the BUF in 1932, after first serving as an MP for the Conservative and Labour parties, and standing as an independent MP. The history of the BUF has been extensively researched, and there is a general consensus that the BUF’s most fruitful recruitment ground was London’s East End. The BUF’s popularity and membership fluctuated throughout the 1930s until Mosley was interned in 1940, which effectively ended the BUF’s existence.
Whitechapel and its environs had been the centre of London’s Jewish community from the mid-19th century; when unemployment rates went up in the 1930s, the BUF’s anti-Semitic messages – formally adopted in 1934 – found traction with some East Enders. When the local population struggled to get work, it was all too easy to blame the Jewish immigrants for ‘taking jobs’. Anne Kershen, a historian of the East End, has pointed out that Jews were the largest minority ethnic group in interwar Britain. This, combined with a long history of anti-Semitism in Britain and Europe as a whole, made the Jewish community a much-used scapegoat for any perceived unfairness in society. With anti-Semitism on the rise across the content in the 1930s, in Britain too these sentiments were foregrounded more in the mid-1930s than in previous decades.
The BUF paid considerable attention to the visual impact of its branding. Apart from the Blackshirt uniforms, which immediately identified BUF members in public, the party also recorded and sold speeches by Mosley and recordings of the Blackshirt Military Band as well as posters, postcards and photo books of Mosley and other BUF leaders. Historian Julie Gottlieb has argued that the party deliberately borrowed from cinematic conventions at their rallies and meetings, which were sometimes held in cinemas. The use of light and sound effects, banners and flags, and choreographed movement all built up to a crescendo when Mosley himself appeared.
The BUF recruited and retained its members primarily through its network of local offices and branches, were members could convene, plan and discuss activities such as rallies and marches. This local, grass-roots organisation meant that there was significant variation of BUF uptake and activity from parish to parish. In the East End, the Bethnal Green branch of the BUF was very successful in drumming up support by offering a cohesive ideological alternative to the local socialist council, which had left residents disillusioned. The BUF also gained traction in Limehouse and Whitechapel.
The organisational structure of the BUF also meant that a member’s involvement with the party was primarily based on local interactions and social activities. In the local headquarters, (male) party members convened to educate themselves, work on party outreach activities and undertake physical exercise classes. Female members had an entirely separate, but similar, experience, with their activities centring on recruiting and training new female members, as well as learning ‘fencing, boxing and first aid’. The BUF’s insistence on physical fitness was part of its racist quest to create ‘New Men’ who would be able to ‘maintain and re-unify’ the British Empire.
Beyond the social activities of the local branch, members could buy the aforementioned party memorabilia as well as party newspapers, cigarettes from the party’s own brand, playing cards, letter heads, et cetera. For the truly committed BUF couple, a fascist wedding may be considered. At these, the groom would typically wear his Blackshirt uniform, whereas the bride could accessorize her dress with Fascist details. At one wedding, the bride cut the cake with an axe rather than a knife. As historian Michael Spurr puts it: Rather than simply voting fascist at elections or proselytising on the streets, members of the BUF became Blackshirts, individuals whose identity and social experience was shaped and defined by this alternate fascist community.’
Herein lies the key to the BUF’s popularity in the East End of the 1930s. The vast amount of social and cultural change which Britain experienced during the interwar period left some groups feeling abandoned. The international political situation was uncertain and a second World War seemed increasingly inevitable. The BUF offered a sense of community and a promise of a Greater Britain – as well as a strong commitment to peace with Hitler. The Party’s savvy marketing strategies amplified its mass appeal; it also frequently recruited teenagers looking for a sense of belonging. Being a BUF member left such an impression that members were able to fondly recall their time with the party, decades later. For them, it was not the party’s political ideas which were of primary importance, but rather its community and the belief that Britain would rise above its difficulties to come out stronger.
 Mosley’s Blackshirts: The Inside Story of The British Union of Fascists 1932-1934 (London: Sanctuary Press, 1986), p. v-vii
 Thomas P Linehan, East London for Mosley: The British Union of Fascists in East London and South-West Essex, 1933-1940 (London: Frank Cass, 1996), p. 199
 Anne Kershen Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields 1666-2000 (London: Routledge, 2005), p. 64
 Michael A. Spurr. ‘’Living the Blackshirt Life’: Culture, Community and the British Union of Fascists, 1932-1940’, Contemporary European History, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Aug., 2003), 305-322 (307)
 Kershen, Strangers, Aliens and Asians, p. 208
 Julie Gottlieb, ‘The Marketing of Megalomania: Celebrity, Consumption and the Development of Political Technology in the British Union of Fascists’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 2006), 35-55 (41-42)
 Ibid., 45
 John Marriot, Beyond the Tower: A History of East London (Yale: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 306
 Spurr, ‘Living the Blackshirt Life’, 315
 Liam J. Liburd, ‘Beyond the Pale: Whiteness, Masculinity and Empire in the British Union of Fascists, 1932–1940’, Fascism, 7 (2018), 275-296 (284-285)
 Spurr, ‘Living the Blackshirt Life’, 318
 Ibid., p. 319
 Mosley’s Blackshirts: The Inside Story of The British Union of Fascists 1932-1934 (London: Sanctuary Press, 1986) is a compendium of past BUF members’ memories of the party