The Wessex Regionalists were not the first political party to revive the name of Wessex in the modern era. In the late 1920s, the anthropologist, World War I veteran and Dorset squire George Pitt-Rivers founded the Wessex Agricultural Defence Association (WADA), to protect the interests of rural landowners in the region, and particularly, to protest against the Church of England’s tithing laws which forced said landowners to give a percentage of their income to the Church, whether they were Anglicans or not. Pitt-Rivers actively disliked Christianity, due to its Jewish origins and to his attraction towards the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and regarded the tithe as an outrageous imposition.
Which brings me to the elephant in the room. If the end of the last paragraph makes Pitt-Rivers sound like a typical 1930s upper-class Nazi sympathiser, that’s because he was. Big time. In fact, so much does his Nazism overshadow his life that the only book about him, written by Bradley W Hart, is entitled George Pitt-Rivers and the Nazis (Bloomsbury Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4725-6996-7), and devotes all of four pages to the WADA. Anti-semitic conspiracy theories are generally embraced by life’s failures, but Pitt-Rivers is an unusual case – a formerly successful academic whose academic credibility was utterly destroyed by his obsessive anti-semitism.
So in light of this, does the WADA have anything to offer the Wessex Regionalists? Given the monstrousness of his views, trying to extract anything good from them does have a whiff of “Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” about it. Interestingly, he was related through his mother to Henry Thynne, the then Marquess of Bath, father of our party’s founder Alexander Thynne. Henry was also a Nazi sympathiser, and a strong negative influence on his son, who rejected most of the things he stood for. So there is a certain synchronicity in the Wessex Regionalists repudiating the legacy of the WADA. Not only do we oppose racism and anti-semitism, but our belief in decentralism instinctively places us on the side of smallholders and family farms, rather than the squirearchy that Pitt-Rivers saw as the foundation of society.
However, we can be grateful to Pitt-Rivers and the WADA for rescuing the name of Wessex from history books and Thomas Hardy novels, and bringing it into the arena of English politics. Like us, he attracted the derision of the London parties for doing so. But he did create the stirrings of a regional consciousness, and offered the possibility of a politics that didn’t centre on That London. He may even have planted a seed in the mind of the young Alexander Thynne, though I have no evidence for that. If he did, though, it was a seed that ended up growing in a very different direction.