One Britain One Nation: Echoes of Early British Fascism in OBON

June 25 is OBON Day, a new adventure in national pride set up by OBON, the “One Britain One Nation” movement. On Friday, thousands of children equipped with Union Jacks will sing the OBON anthem, One Britain, One Dream, the rousing chorus of which is “We are Britain / And we have one dream / To unite all people / In one great team.” It is no surprise that the UK Government and The Department of Education are in full support of this jamboree. As faith in Boris Johnson’s government evaporates by the minute, OBON Day provides a welcome diversion from the disasters of Covid and Brexit. The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, described OBON Day as “an amazing project” adding that the Government had “already asked schools to be able to participate in this and we are very happy from the dispatch box to reiterate that endorsement of this project and encourage them to play their part in it.” So, putting children in the front line of a nationalist push was a clever move on the part of OBON. It captivated a desperate government and drew support from a disillusioned public. Though the event has attracted ridicule and apprehension in many quarters, it remains popular in others and is likely to be well supported.

Some have inevitably likened OBON to the Hitler Youth, perhaps without realizing that Britain has a dishonourable history of its own when it comes to press-ganging children into a nationalist cause. June 1925, for example, saw the founding of the FCC, the Fascist Children’s Clubs, an offshoot of the women’s units of the British Fascisti, a forerunner of Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. If your offspring joined this junior branch of the movement, they could expect a well-organised afternoon of activities: “I. Roll call and salute the Union Jack. II. Hymn and Lord’s Prayer. III. Historical and national subjects, lives of good men and women etc. IV. Games. V. Competitions given out for home work. VI. Patriotic songs and items of news. VII. General tidying up. Monitors take special charge of the Union Jack. God Save the King.” The following year a Mr Harrison Hill founded the Patriotic Song League. The first song he wrote for children proclaimed the virtues of nationalism in the face of the common enemy, which in those days was Communism: “We are all Anti-Red, and We’re proud of it, / All Britons, and singing aloud of it / If Red, White and Blue isn’t good enough for you, / And if you don’t like the Empire, clear out of it!.” Clearly, OBON would be the first to distance itself from historical movements like the FCC, pointing to its own avowed focus on  “inclusion” and “tolerance” as evidence of very different ideals. Nonetheless, there are unsettling similarities to be found in the ideology of OBON and that of the far-right groups that took root in the Twenties and Thirties. What are they? A careful inspection of the OBON website reveals a great deal.

First, OBON has unwarrantably appointed itself guardian of the nation’s moral compass. This is a well-known characteristic of extremist movements. It says, my italics, that its aims are “to make Britain an international model of moral rectitude” and to “re-appropriate the flag of Great Britain so that it represents all people of good conscience”. So, if your ideas of what constitute moral rectitude and a good conscience are not congruent with OBON’s, then you won’t be admitted to the fold.

Second, OBON also sees itself, with breathtaking impertinence, as a custodian of culture – which again is a familiar badge of extremism, recalling the cultural depredations of Hitler and Stalin. OBON’s cultural aim, again my italics, is “to create a single culture that embraces and accommodates differences without over-emphasising and reinforcing them.” In other words, your cultural differences will be tolerated as long you submit to the overarching principles of the new nationalism, the new culture hastily cobbled together to replace the old. Step out of line, and you’re for it.

Third, the OBON website is littered with entirely gratuitous jingo carefully calculated to appeal to nationalist sentiment and sentimentality – yet another characteristic it shares with extremist movements of the past. For example, when introducing its CEO and founder, a former police officer, we are told that “it can be said with confidence that Kash Singh wore the Queen’s uniform with immense pride.” It goes on to say that Singh “feels proud to dedicate his role as the Chief Executive of OBON to Her Majesty and the people of this Nation.” The jingoism is visually intensified by the OBON logo, an embarrassing clip-art hotchpotch featuring British lions rampant as supporters, surmounted by the Crown of England. It falsely implies endorsement by the establishment and unsuccessfully tries to create an impression of tradition and heritage.

Fourth, worst of all perhaps, is OBON’s shameless cooption of ideals that we all strive for and that are attainable without recourse to nationalist jingo. OBON says it wants “a society built on compassion, tolerance and harmony based on mutual respect”. Well, don’t we all? But we all know from history that founding a nationalist movement is emphatically not the way to achieve this. All OBON seems to have learnt from history is this: that to give a dangerous movement traction in this day and age, one must cynically sugar the pill with the tame vocabulary of “inclusion” and “tolerance”. The only sense in which OBON might genuinely be described as “inclusive” is that people of colour are now welcome aboard the nationalist bandwagon in a way they wouldn’t have been in the 1920s.

If anyone is tempted to dismiss all this as unduly alarmist and consider OBON a harmless and well-meaning diversion, remember that extremist movements gain traction in hard times and thrive on chaos. They start from slender and apparently innocuous beginnings and grow into monsters. Kash Singh, who as a police officer won the Criminal Justice Award for his work during the 2001 Bradford riots, should know this well. If he has forgotten it, he should revisit history – and make a careful assessment of the people who write his copy and shape his publicity.

I have every hope that children will eventually resist the nonsense peddled by OBON and rebel against it. I leave you with an aggrieved report from Rotha Lintorn-Orman, the founder of the British Fascisti, describing how she was attacked by a group of uncooperative children in the East End in 1927: “We went down, a party of 15 strong, all women members, to further our campaign for the formation of the Fascist Children’s Clubs which are organizing around the country to counteract the propaganda of the Red Sunday School. Nearest the platform there were about 200 children, and the Reds behind kept on pushing at the back, so that the children were driven towards us. After a while the children started throwing things at us.” Good for them. Lintorn-Orman was forced to retreat in disarray.