ARTICLE BY GUY BLYTHMAN
AN ESSAY ON ENOCH

I never met Enoch Powell personally, though I corresponded with him a couple of times, in 1981 and 1994. I also saw him twice in the House of Commons. On the first occasion, in 1981, the great man was speaking on the rather mundane subject of electricity supplies in Northern Ireland, and so perhaps one did not get much of an opportunity to appreciate his full brilliance, though it showed his devotion to the more mundane but nonetheless important aspects of constituency affairs, and thus to the welfare of his constituents. I thought his habit of tucking his thumbs into his lapels when going to sleep (as he did on one occasion, the day's business not being of a particularly exciting nature) rather absurd and excessively old-fashioned; he is the only person I have ever seen do that and was probably one of the last to.

The second occasion was in November 1985, when the House was debating the Anglo-Irish agreement over which the Ulster Unionist MPs, Powell included, had resolved to resign their seats in order to fight by-elections which would prove to the Thatcher government the extent of Ulster’s disapproval of the measure. Powell had at first seemed reluctant to take this step, which caused some friction between him and the other Unionists. But his hesitation was forgiveable. As he had a slender majority there was every possibility he would lose, ending for him a life to which he had become deeply attached, perhaps the only one he knew; because Enoch Powell was undoubtedly a devoted parliamentarian.

I was one of a group from the Southampton University Conservative Association who had been invited to tea at the Commons by the parliamentary party; whether that date had been chosen because of the subject being debated I don’t know, but a few of us, myself included, were able to spend some time in the Chamber listening to the speeches. Unfortunately we were not present when Enoch did his bit, but I could see him sitting with the other Unionists, with whom his relations had allegedly been a little strained over his apparent unwillingness to stand down. Clearly visible even from the other side of the Chamber was that prominent scar-like jowl which ran down one side of his face, a face which seemed to wear a grimly disgruntled, baleful expression. He didn’t look very happy. Yet after a while he turned to one of his colleagues with a friendly smile and began speaking to him in what was obviously a warm and amicable conversation. Another of our party confirmed that Powell had seemed generally to be getting on well with his colleagues. Altogether, it was a sign that he was not always the cold, aloof figure his enemies portrayed him as. I felt it showed a very different side to his personality.

In many ways I regret that I never met him properly, although what would have happened if I had is difficult to say. Powell could sometimes snub those who showed interest in him, though much depended on how the approach was made. The American academic Douglas E Schoen, author of Enoch Powell and the Powellites, describes his own experiences thus:

“I approached Mr Powell in October 1975 with a request to interview him for this study. Mr Powell replied that he could not grant me an interview as this would imply collaboration between the two of us. Nevertheless he agreed to provide (and subsequently did provide) copies of speeches he had delivered in Ulster since 1973 plus additional requested materials. Unfortunately Mr Powell took exception to my interviewing other MPs about him and made his feelings known to my supervisor. Both my supervisor...and I indicated to Mr Powell that I was doing serious academic research and was not, as he maintained, engaging in "political gossip". Mr Powell did not respond to Mr Johnson {Schoen's supervisor}'s or my letter except by directing his secretary to send me a bill for £1 for duplicating the speeches he had earlier provided.”

Powell could cold-shoulder even his admirers. In 1977 the gossip column of the Daily Express reported on how he had treated a supporter who had attempted effusively to talk to him on an Underground train. One wonders how those members of the public who admired him, met with such a rebuff, would react; it would be very disillusioning. Would they have retained their admiration if subjected at first hand to his notorious frostiness?

These incidents arose because Powell was a very private person, and with this went, as it often does, a dislike of obsequious flattery (though Schoen had not been guilty of that). The man on the Tube seems to have been over-familiar and annoying. Powell’s left-wing detractors regard the right-wing praise there has so often been of him as “flatulent”; privately at any rate Powell would probably have agreed with them. Where it did not impose on him directly his attitude was that if they wanted to be like that he could do nothing about it; it was their choice.

My own contact with Enoch Powell was as follows. I once wrote to him asking for his autograph and for any advice he might give to someone with political ambitions (at that time I very much wanted to be an MP). I suppose I was being a bit naive in expecting a fulsome reply with detailed advice on this and that. I duly received the autograph – along with a list of books that Powell has written, or of his speeches, plus an order form. I felt rather as if I had been short-changed, though his signature remains a treasured possession (along with those of Harold Wilson, Barbara Castle and several other political illuminaries of the 60s and 70s). Much later, in 1994, I sent him for his perusal an article (in the end unpublished) I had written on immigration and race in modern Britain for the Conservative Political Centre. Powell stated that he had only one comment to make, which he did not wish to be published, thereby rendering it completely worthless from the point of view of posterity.

It was regrettable given that Enoch Powell was the sort of person with whom I ought to have had a lot in common. We were both intensely patriotic. We were both regarded as child prodigies, and as being much of the time in worlds of our own. We spent a lot of time buried in books rather than communicating with other people. We both had frustrated careers; in my case, work prospects were fatally damaged by an inability to find anything other than casual employment, and attempts to escape from the benefit trap, as well as make a name for myself, through writing by the enormous obstacles faced nowadays by new authors. We could be irascible when we felt people had failed to understand us.

There is no doubt Powell could be a cold fish, as my father, in many ways an admirer of him – Enoch was always highly regarded in our family – admitted. In 1974 it was not the fact that he did what he did in defecting from the Tories and telling his supporters to vote Labour, who among other things were less favourably disposed towards the Common Market, in the February election which was bad, if he did it from conscience, but rather the curt way in which he treated his constituency organisation in Wolverhampton over the matter, after an association of twenty-four years (although he later wrote personally to thank them).

Even Simon Heffer, high priest of the cult of Powell, admits that he sometimes seemed not to care what the effect might be on people’s feelings of things he said and/or did. He made hurtful remarks which would have alienated many of those who supported him, had they heard them. At one point towards the end of his life he stated that he held any man or woman who went to the European Court to redress a grievance to be a “scoundrel.” And yet many ordinary people of the kind who admired him because they felt he spoke for them on immigration would take, and in some cases have taken, that route when they felt the existing UK law discriminated against them or was not serving them well on some important matter. Had that not been the case they would not have done so. Beyond a certain point it is unreasonable to expect people to put up with too much in the name of patriotism, even though it’s noble if they do.

Was it fair, though, that Powell should have been so reviled by some? Was it right his career should have been such a failure?

There have been many biographies of Powell in recent years, far more than those politicians who achieved the Premiership or one of the other major offices of state. The obsession, one might say infatuation, there has been with him requires some explanation. It is simply that he was the most interesting of post-war politicians, regardless of whether you agreed with him. The reason for this is that Powell, with the possible exception of Margaret Thatcher, had more moral and intellectual stature than they. He is certainly more interesting than, say, Attlee, Callaghan, Major, Home, or Brown and more a man of principle than Harold Wilson. Churchill was past his best by his peacetime ministry. Heath was too often a bully with a short temper who sought to impose on the country his way of running it, regardless of its actual wishes. If Tony Blair had an intellect, as opposed to “intelligence” which is a different thing altogether, it was of a very strange kind; he was like a naïve, immature schoolboy playing with the constitution, and with global politics, like a set of toy building bricks, with disastrous consequences. David Cameron has the brains but is too in hock to political correctness and Thatcherite free enterprise, the two ideologies which, by the way they are practised, have done so much damage to British national life in recent years. Not all the above were/are bad people, by any means. But they somehow don’t compare with Enoch Powell.

This booklet is not intended to be another biography of Powell; there is, perhaps, a surfeit of Powell biographies. The definitive is of course the substantial volume by Heffer. I felt that a survey was needed which was more concise and less unwieldy than his hagiographic 900-plus page tome. And perhaps more critical; given that Powell’s speeches on immigration are said to have incited racist attacks on Asian children, which may well be true, greater sensitivity is required than to so often praise him loudly and without qualification. If the allegations are true, no admirer of Powell can fail to be disturbed by that.

Mr Heffer also has the tendency to excessively denigrate anyone who opposed or criticised Powell’s policies. One figure is treated to an account of his subsequent career which is not intended to be particularly impressive, and ends with the words “later he joined the SDP.” The intention here is to establish the idea in people’s heads that the SDP were ineffective and a refuge for nonentities and has-beens. Even though they may have been a little naïve, there is nothing wrong with decent – and in many cases highly intelligent - people getting understandably sick of the childish and unhelpful squabbling between left and right which characterised British politics in the 1980s and attempting to make a difference by founding a third party (which as part of the Alliance did win by-elections). Heffer's mention of the death of Stephen Milligan as a result of a kinky sex session gone wrong is gratuitous, especially when Milligan's election as an MP, and his death, took place over 24 years after the events Heffer describes, even if Heffer only says that Milligan died “in unfortunate circumstances.” With some exceptions, anyone who isn't a right-wing free marketeer is regarded as pompous and possibly morally dubious. Heffer's objectivity seems under question; he appears to think that anybody who disagreed with or opposed Powell in any way was a fool. Writers and journalists who are irascible and opinionated are praised because it makes things more interesting. But if this is so, then we can’t complain when someone says something about them which is unfair. Heffer’s snideness towards Powell’s enemies is no less distasteful than Jeremy Paxman’s completely wrong, and in fact utterly disgraceful, assertion in The English that all Powell objected to in the matter of immigration was purely and simply the entry into this country of lots of people with a different-coloured skin. Given that the issue is much more complex than that suggests, it is a dangerously unhelpful way of looking at things. But of course we find Paxo makes it all so much more exciting, don’t we?

Powell aroused strong emotions. The Daily Telegraph was embarrassingly excessive in its coverage of his death, a whole page being devoted to him (when apparently its then editor, Charles Moore, had once insisted that only two people, Mrs Thatcher and the Pope, merited such treatment. If this was a sign of the paper’s adulation of Powell the Guardian and the Independent positioned themselves at the other end of the scale. Into the 1980s Powell was held in high regard by many on the left, despite everything. The Guardian would publish letters and articles by him. Michael Foot, a man of principle who recognised in Powell a kindred spirit, had always held him in high regard and spoken kindly of him, although interestingly he made no comment when asked when Powell died for his opinion on the man’s career. There was a civilised magnanimity about things. But by the time of Powell’s death all that had changed; a very nasty spirit had crept in. The left-wing or middle-of-the-road papers had so little regard for their subject that they indulged in a distasteful kind of character assassination. To accompany their obituaries they chose photographs of Powell which appeared to show the subject in an unflattering light. That used by the Independent makes him appear cruel and satanic while the Guardian's choice, clearly showing the signs of Parkinson’s, suggests a brooding mental trauma with its fixed, hostile stare, and its caption describes Powell as a “tense, unsmiling man”. Norman Shrapnel's assertion that Powell "had always been slightly deranged" is not likely to satisfy its readers, or future historians, that the writer is being objective. It is cheap as well as unscientific. Powell’s problem, if one views it as that, was not insanity as will be made clear later on. This scathing treatment was probably due to the influence of the late Paul Foot.

As for the black newspapers, the Voice devoted a surprisingly small section to him, perhaps showing their contempt by not giving him the publicity they didn’t feel he deserved. A similar publication had "Burn in Hell, Enoch", and "Enoch Powell was a...” (readers were invited to tick whatever one out of a list of possible descriptions of Powell, none of them very complimentary, that they thought appropriate).

Look up Powell on Google and you will find among the various websites on which he is mentioned one where Paul Foot sums up his career with the words “Enoch Powell was a filthy racist, whatever anyone else thinks.” Apart from the basic wrongness of this, how the adjective “filthy”, in a moral sense, can be applied to someone who was in many ways excessively honourable, with a very strong awareness of what was proper and improper, takes some explaining. Powell could be standoffish and high-handed, but that isn’t quite the same thing. Without wishing to do a Simon Heffer, Paul Foot was not himself always an admirable human being. He stood up for many good causes, exposed the people who needed to be exposed. He was right about the Lockerbie disaster, among other things. But apart from his unfairness about Powell, Foot deserves censure for his comment in a Private Eye special publication on the (farcical) Lockerbie trial that the lawyers for the prosecution had held “triumphalist” meetings with the relatives of the dead, which makes it seem as if he is criticising the families too, in a way which is highly inappropriate, even though he admits in thanking those who helped him in his research – including a few of the bereaved themselves - that they are unlikely to agree with the style of his piece.

Admittedly, we are not bound to exonerate Powell purely because he was an intelligent and cultured man. There have been plenty of intelligent and cultured people who have used their learning and eloquence as both a smokescreen and a launch pad for base prejudices. But what was he, exactly?

First, a summary of Powell's career is called for. He was a University Professor at 25 and a brigadier (the British Army’s youngest) in the Second World War in his early thirties. He was elected to parliament in 1950. He became a junior minister but resigned from the government over economic policies he considered too interventionist. He was appointed Minister of Health in 1960 but resigned in 1963 over the sidelining of R A Butler in the appointment of a successor to Harold Macmillan, which he considered unethical (he had a history of resigning on matters of principle, one reason why he would not have lasted long as Prime Minister and was perhaps never meant to occupy that position, if Fate is regarded as having any hand in human affairs). He had by now made his name within the Conservative party as a strong supporter of monetarist economics, becoming in effect a prototype Thatcherite. He was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet, in which he sat as defence spokesman, in 1968 over his controversial speech against Commonwealth immigration. Although from then on he was confined to the backbenches Powell remained an important political figure because of his considerable popular following, which in the end was the basis of his influence rather than any support he enjoyed within the Conservative establishment itself. Though this is difficult to prove, it was probably his support for the Tories which put Heath in power in 1970 and his rejection of them which turfed him out of it in 1974 (supporters of Powell claim that it was, his detractors that it wasn’t). There is a parallel here with Joseph Chamberlain, another West Midlands political tribune; with the difference that Powell acted from principle more than personal ambition he, like Chamberlain, could wreck parties. However, his resignation from the Conservative Party over the election of 1974, which he regarded as fraudulent since it had been called by Heath in a fit of pique over the actions of the miners – though his decision was as much to do with annoyance at Heath’s having brought Britain into the EU – to return in October as an MP for a minor party, marked the end of his ability to influence events in any significant way. I suspect, as do many, that he subsequently regretted the decision, wondering – despite speeches to the contrary - whether it might not have been a serious mistake.

During the most important part of Powell’s career, I either had not yet been born or was too young to really know what was going on. However, he continued to be a controversial figure. In 1984, following a Christmas message which seemed to focus unduly on ethnic minorities and on the inhabitants of the Commonwealth at large rather than Britain, he caused a storm by suggesting that the Queen was failing to speak for the majority of her people (Powell had no time for the Commonwealth, regarding it as a fiction with no real purpose and a waste of time and money). To many on the left, inside and outside parliament, he was anathema, mainly because of his views on immigration, which never seemed to change. During the 1980s certain left-wing elements among the studentship of British universities - aided and abetted, it was strongly suspected, by student union officials - followed a policy of disrupting meetings with eminent visiting speakers who were considered to be racists or fascists, even if they were not actually speaking on anything to do with race or immigration. On several occasions, notably at Bristol in the autumn of 1986, meetings at which Powell spoke were broken up. This was one reason why he was forced to cut down on speaking engagements as he grew older - for a man in his seventies, such incidents were likely to prove increasingly stressful.

He seemed to be back in the public eye in the spring of 1985, when he put forward a private members’ bill to outlaw the use of human embryos for scientific research, something he considered an affront to human dignity. It is quite likely that some of the opposition to the measure was based on spite towards Powell, a feeling that he was being hypocritical in taking the moral high ground when (they believed) he was guilty of something like racial prejudice. A speaker against the bill at a Union meeting at Southampton complained, "Enoch Powell couldn't give a ---- about black people, now he's all concerned about embryos." Nonetheless, though in the end the bill failed to become law, his stance on the issue might have seen as a sign of moral sensitivity on his part. Some correspondents in the letters pages of national newspapers certainly thought so, but the perception could well have been more widespread than that. Sadly, however, his anti-immigration speech after the Broadwater Farm riots in October destroyed any goodwill the embryo bill might have fostered on the part of those who were not generally disposed to like him; and perhaps of others too. This reiteration of the views he had first expressed in 1968 met with anger and derision from the political establishment, who felt he had learnt nothing. Roy Hattersley called him "the Alf Garnett of British politics" (unfortunately perhaps for Powell Till Death Us Do Part, renamed In Sickness And In Health, was at this time enjoying a revival on TV). Shortly after his re-election to parliament the following January he made remarks which appeared to condone violence by Ulster loyalists against the Anglo-Irish agreement; the heated and unfriendly TV interview in which he defended them was a low point in his career. A few months later there occurred the fiasco at Bristol.

The embryo bill, even if it failed, was a high point for Powell; over Broadwater Farm he had only been repeating views which he had always held, just as there had always been those who barracked him. Nonetheless it could be concluded that he was now past his best; he had become too eccentric, too crotchety, too inclined to get bees in his bonnet. A fellow member of the Conservative Association at university told me he thought Powell was getting “a bit funny in the head.” It was perhaps a blessing, though at the same time sad, when his political career finally ended with the loss of his seat at the 1987 General Election – which also, in what some might have seen as appropriate, saw the first black and Asian MPs enter parliament. Powell was a victim of the turbulent and seemingly absurd Ulster politics which had seen him scrape home by barely the skin of his teeth in 1983 yet be returned with an increased majority at the 1986 by-election, and was now casting him out once and for all into the wilderness. As it happens his last speech in the Commons was about Ulster and the need for it to be retained as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

He continued to speak and write on politics and other matters, and to be, as always, a cause of contention. Until the early 1990s, due partly to the tendency for men to become better-looking in middle and later life, he was still an impressive presence, despite not being particularly tall (and thus perhaps less intimidating than his reputation, if you weren’t sure you liked him, might suggest). There then occurred a sudden and shocking change, brought about by the onset of Parkinson’s Disease. In April 1994 he appeared on an edition of Timewatch which discussed immigration and its consequences for the subsequent shape of Britain. Many people commented how ill he looked, “like someone about to have a stroke and die,” in the words of one of my work colleagues who also saw the programme. According to Heffer, many already thought Powell was dead – at the risk of seeming cruel, they could be forgiven for thinking they hadn’t been far wrong -and were surprised to find this was not the case.

All in all, it was another not particularly uplifting occasion. But Powell did live on for another four years and for the first part of that period at least still had his marbles, more or less. He did a TV interview with Michael Cockerell which was broadcast in the autumn of 1995. He also wrote The Evolution of the Gospel, a book which is worth reading as part of a study of the nature of belief, of what must be regarded as crucial to a theological system and what can be discarded, but whose conclusions most Christians would regard as suspect. Powell had interpreted the Hebrew scriptures in such a way as to be convinced Christ was stoned to death and not crucified as we are told in the Bible. It’s true that the different Gospels don’t always agree with one another in their record of events; for one thing there seems some confusion as to who was actually present at Jesus’ tomb when the stone was rolled away. Though the Bible is an account of God’s intervention in human affairs it was written down by humans themselves, who are fallible. But the setting of a story, the props as it were – is crucial to the whole performance (using the analogy of a theatre), and it is not possible to be mistaken about such an important detail as the manner of Jesus’ death, even if that detail is nonetheless a factual thing and makes no difference to the spiritual reality of the sacrifice and resurrection and their role in atonement for sin. It was further confirmation that the author’s brilliant mind, under the onset of old age, was taking a path divergent from that which most would have followed on the matter.

It was unfortunate for Powell that the issue with which he became most identified was a particularly sensitive one (and also that the day he made the so-called “rivers of blood” speech, 20th April, was Hitler’s birthday, although the timing was pure coincidence). Powell’s entire reputation rests on his motives for taking the stand he did on immigration. The objection to any more immigrants entering the country was quite reasonable, in view of the culture shock to the indigenes and the possible strain on resources. If Powell had confined himself to campaigning for a limitation to the scale of future immigration, he might have avoided a good deal of opprobrium, but he had to go further and call for repatriation, for which there was much less of a case.

Certainly he wasn’t motivated by anything so crude as dislike of the colour of a person's skin. He was courteous towards individual black or Asian people; the issue was not, in his opinion, a question of individuals anyway. We need to emphasise that it was the growth of the non-white population that concerned Powell, not the fact that it was here at all. He certainly did not believe that people were undesirable simply because they happened to be a bit different from other people. In itself, that difference was not the problem. Rather, I believe his argument was that as the non-white population grew, the white would have to change its perception of itself in a way that would be difficult and thus psychologically damaging for it. In order to avoid this, it would try to drive out the other races by force. The other races would naturally resist since by then they would have become accustomed to living in Britain, regarding it as home – as they do, which is why they can be forgiven for taking an adverse view of Powell and his opinions. Put this way one can understand Powell’s views even if not ultimately endorsing them.

I think he accepted, despite the perception of left-wing people of whatever race, that the ethnic minorities would in time come to consider themselves British and that they belonged here. In a sense that was part of the problem; it might result in irresistible force being pitted against immovable object. The minorities were not going to leave but at the same time the growth in their numbers would challenge the identity of the long-established white majority in ways it would find unwelcome.

In a speech to the Rotary Club of London in November 1968 Powell talked of the “slow mercy of the years” absorbing “that unparalleled invasion of our body politic.” He was referring to a relatively small immigrant/ethnic minority community, which would not in the future increase in size, rather than the large and constantly growing population which is a feature of Britain today. But he would probably have conceded that eventually, the conflict caused by demographic change would end, that somehow or other things would be sorted out. All being equal, time would heal the damage. However, if someone pointed out to him that there had been plenty of long and bloody conflicts in the past which had ultimately been got over, he would have replied that neither he nor anyone else would want to go through such trauma in order to resolve matters. If the conflicts could had been avoided at the time they occurred, or before, they would have been. It was right for the Saxons to have resisted the Norman Conquest even though, 900 or so years later, the descendants of both Saxons and Normans would be living in peace together in these islands and subscribing to a common British identity. Again he was following, perhaps rather brutally, a certain logic.

If the multicultural experiment worked, well and good, but if it didn’t we would be in trouble. It was that trouble he was trying to save us from. He didn’t think we should take the risk. To embark on the experiment when, if it failed, it could have the most appalling consequences in terms of social unrest, and not to draw attention to that risk, was in his view irresponsible.

Powell never properly explained precisely why he found the growth of the non-white population to be so dangerous, with the result that people either vilified him as a racist or supported him for the wrong reasons. He forgot that ordinary mortals did not occupy the same intellectual pedestal as himself and expected the meaning of what he said to be self-evident when it was not (though he did once confess, rather engagingly, to being arrogant in this respect, in an interview for BBC Radio in 1986). Like Gladstone, he understood Man but not always men.

He would say things, things that might be misinterpreted, and expect people to understand them. A statement like “What’s wrong with racism?” in the 1995 Cockerell interview would by many people, and particularly on the left, only be construed one way. What Powell really meant, of course, was that all of us are aware of race, are proud of our own ethnic identity, and therefore consider it a factor of importance in politics. But even though the difference between this and actual hatred for those of other races has been explained both by Powell himself, in his famous David Frost interview, and his biographer Robert Shepherd such a way of putting things is bound to give the wrong impression, even if we make allowances for people being what they are, and so is best avoided. Like many very clever people, (a) Powell’s intellect worked faster than the rest of him and (b) he failed to understand that those less clever than he might not see what he was getting at, or misunderstand him. The misunderstanding was particularly dangerous on a sensitive issue like immigration. At the same time, his tendency sometimes to be irritable, standoffish, saturnine on all kinds of matters damaged his anti-racist credentials, by making it less likely to those unhappy at his views that he was basically benign in his intentions.

One might put it to Powell that while he had never argued for anything other than voluntary repatriation, there was little point in such a policy, if it was designed to significantly reverse the demographic changes being brought about by Commonwealth immigration, since if given the choice the vast majority of blacks and Asians would not go. They could only be forced out, provoking just the kind of civil strife that Powell claimed he wanted to avoid and which would became potentially more awful the more the ethnic minority population grew. A man of logic should have understood this. So what was the point in his continuing to call for repatriation? He was laying himself open to the charge that in bringing up the issue so determinedly, however he proposed it should be solved, he was trying to sow racial discontent by talking about the black and Asian presence in this country as something that might not be desirable. It undoubtedly did have that effect.

The answer must be that despite his high integrity and intellect he was nonetheless a politician (remaining so in an active sense, with a certain constituency behind him, after his fall from real political influence in 1974) and politicians have to calculate what the effect will be on the public of any position they take on a given issue, or a change in that position, and how it will influence the success or otherwise of their policies. Had Powell changed from advocating repatriation to not advocating it he would have seemed to lack integrity and honesty, and apart from not wishing to give that impression, his moral reputation meaning so much to him, would have lost the confidence of that constituency – in his view the majority of the nation - he felt himself to be the much-needed spokesman for. At best it would have confused people. This ability to calculate politically (for reasons other than purely personal gain) makes no difference to his essential integrity. He was so convinced of the ultimately disastrous consequences of a major change in the racial composition of the country that if, in some way, his advocating even voluntary repatriation helped to prevent one then he should do so. If he felt strongly enough about the danger he thought the country was in, and forcible repatriation was distasteful to him, then he logically had to speak out in the only way which remained, even if it ultimately proved pointless. A philosophical evaluation was being made, involving careful weighing of both the desirability and the utility of a particular position.

Another serious charge which is justly laid at his door is his failure to condemn violence against immigrants by those who were genuinely racist. But Powell felt it was going to happen anyway, whether or not his own statements helped to incite it, and thus there was little point in condemning it (there is a contradiction in criticising what you think is inevitable as it implies it can be stopped). Even if there is a difference between what is unavoidable and what comes from hatred, the two might have become confused in the public mind and condemning one therefore seem to be condemning both, with the result that Powell would have appeared hypocritical or self-contradictory. To understand his stance on various issues it is essential to see him as someone formulating their opinions on issues by weighing the pros and cons carefully in their mind and always analysing the possible consequences of an action or statement before making it. It is impossible to comprehend him except as a philosopher attempting to apply philosophical principles to politics.

He was also standing excessively on his own dignity, as he did in other matters (see the Schoen business). He felt that there was no special onus on him to condemn the violence since his motives were very different and far more honourable than the attackers; to suggest there was would be to link him to them in a way he found insulting. He failed to realise that it would still have been the considerate, and sensible, thing to do and have also boosted his standing in the eyes of those inclined to get the wrong idea about him. He was wrong in thinking it would have made much difference to his argument, though it was an intellectual flaw of which he was guilty and not a moral one.

His belief that people in a certain situation were bound to react, sooner or later, with aggression also explains his refusal in 1986 to condemn violence by Unionists against the Anglo-Irish agreement.

But was he right about immigration? The recent proliferation of TV programmes in which the question of national identity, and how to define it, is examined tends to suggest an uneasy soul-searching, an underlying angst, rather than a nation confident that it knows which way it is going and that that direction is the right one. Then there is the “white flight”, something which no less a personage than Trevor Phillips, former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, alluded to in a statement where he warned that Britain was sleep-walking towards segregation. The reason some areas of London and the other big cities have such a large ethnic minority (given how long some of it has been here for, it is vulgar and inaccurate to call it “immigrant”) population is that the whites have moved out. Meanwhile, the fact that attempts to celebrate specifically white culture would almost certainly be regarded dubiously by political correctionists, while anti-white racism receives less attention from the establishment than its opposite – as in the decision by a judge that the killing of a white person by two Asians was not racist even though one of them had been heard to say “that’ll teach a white man to poke his nose into our business” – proves that in one sense at least, if not perhaps in others, the black (or brown) man does have the whip-hand over the white.

The failure for the prophesied bloodbath to occur is held up as proof that Powell was at best deranged and at worst hoping to stir up trouble, on whatever flimsy pretext, out of hatred. However the important thing to remember about Enoch Powell is that he was not concerned with the situation in the 1960s, 70s or 80s so much as the situation in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s. So the fact that the race war he prophesied hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t. It merely hasn’t happened yet. We could simply be talking about a time bomb, or a stick of dynamite with a long fuse.

For all that, it is still not a foregone conclusion; for one thing Powell overlooked the possibility that younger whites, being more accustomed to a society less racially homogenous than it once was, will find the demographic changes easier to adjust to. He was undoubtedly an academic, a scholar, an intellectual, and one suspects that if he had read the passage in question – whether he did or not I have no idea - he would not have minded Schoen’s comparing him, in his political behaviour, to a philosopher formulating ideas, establishing that they are the incontrovertible truth and then basing his conduct around them in what he says and does. A thesis is flawed if it leaves out certain vital factors or is based on assumptions that may be unwarranted. But we can regard Powell as having indicated, correctly, that at least the possibility of future racial warfare was inherent in the changes immigration was causing. Originally I thought he was simply misguided on the issue; now I can at least see what he was getting at, and I can picture him looking down from Heaven, if he is there, with an expression of sardonic amusement at my volte face. (He got some things wrong. The question is not whether people consider themselves to be British, because it is clear many ethnic minority people do (even if there are many, such as the Islamic extremists, who do not or who attach a label to themselves merely because it is convenient to do so). The quarrel is more over racial identity – always a factor whatever happens – than national, more over how Britishness should be defined than whether such a quality exists). We can qualify our reaction to Powell’s views by recognising not that “rivers of blood” are inevitable, but rather that they are inevitable – though one trusts not – if people are not sensible. There is a failure, from an excessive guilt complex about a racist and imperialist past, to address valid white fears, to recognise problems such as sexual abuse by Asian men of young white girls, and to accept that the overconcentration on white racism may merely make whites vulnerable to revenge attacks when they become themselves an ethnic minority – as current predictions make clear will eventually happen. As long as these issues are not addressed racial tension will always be there and we cannot assume it will never explode catastrophically, maybe despite differences of outlook between generations.

It may not be the case that Powell always held the views he did without reservation. In 1988, when asked by Nick Ross what he thought about racial intermarriage, he suggested it might be a good thing because the blending of races would mean there was less likely to be antagonism between them. Apart from the fact that this is generally not the kind of thing you would expect from someone who was racist in the truest and most reprehensible sense, it suggests, given that intermarriage was by then on the increase, that he was prepared to consider the possibility he might after all have been wrong in thinking the demographic changes taking place in Britain would inevitably lead to disaster. It is not something his detractors generally seem aware of and one suspects they would not give him credit for it if they were, although I may be wrong.

One last word on the question of Powell and immigration. In early 1969 Powell was interviewed on TV by David Frost in what became a heated and therefore highly entertaining discussion on the subject. Twenty-five years later, in 1993, Frost commented on the occasion thus in a documentary on his career: “We tried to expose Enoch Powell as a racist…we didn’t succeed.” This is an interesting statement because it suggests one can, indeed, express the views Powell did without being a racist, which makes the current vehement condemnation of him as one by the Left look unfair and unwarranted. What they overlook is that not all members of the minority communities saw Powell as they did; on his death Tara Mukherjee, president of the Confederation of Indian Organisations UK, commented (along with Denis Healey) that he was not a racist but rather an extreme nationalist. Nor did all left-wing politicians. Michael Foot has already been mentioned; on a personal level Healey’s relations with Powell seem to have been friendly, despite the two strongly disagreeing on political matters; and then there is Tony Benn, perhaps most significant at all given that he was the ideological opposite of Powell and one of the people you’d have thought most likely to be hostile to him. The two were on good terms throughout most of Powell’s life; and commenting on the “rivers of blood” speech, Benn stated that it had given succour to various unsavoury and bigoted characters “of whom he {Powell} was not one.” At the time of the speech Benn had declared that the flag which flew over the Nazi concentration camps was now flying over Wolverhampton. But it has to be accepted that for many the game of politics is a business of nailing your colours to a chosen mast, appealing to a certain constituency, in order to gain attention, build a power base and so further your career prospects. The issues on which one chooses to do this can be reflected on with objectivity and humanity in the autumn of one’s career, when these considerations no longer apply.

In any case it would be wrong to let our estimate of Powell be coloured, so to speak, by this one issue even if we were justified in thinking the worst of him because of his opinions on it. It should be remembered that he had strong views on a wide range of issues. As well as immigration he was concerned with Britain’s place in the modern world and in particular her relationship with the rest of Europe. He seems to have felt that she should pursue an independent course in world affairs, rather than play second fiddle to Washington (he was never happy with what he saw as Margaret Thatcher’s kow-towing to Ronald Reagan) or Brussels. He believed that membership of the EEC, with laws enacted in Brussels taking precedence over those passed at Westminster, would compromise Britain’s independence, and thus her freedom – it would amount to basically the same thing – as well as any focus for patriotism because there would no longer be a state in its own right which one could feel loyalty towards. Whether he was correct to argue for total withdrawal from the EU is a matter of opinion, but his fears would seem substantiated by increasing evidence of, and public concern over, the growing power of Brussels and the implications of absurd laws – affecting the proper punishment of wrongdoers among other things – which have a damaging effect upon British identity and liberties yet which the government in London seems powerless to prevent. Powell realised, correctly, that the nation was the only sensible unit of government in the earthly world. Anything else would be too large to run efficiently or democratically, nor could it keep the loyalty of its citizens. The nation state therefore needed to be preserved. A comparatively recent (nineteenth century) creation, it has not yet had its day and in fact will always be essential as a counter to unitary tendencies which may be harmful to liberty. For these reasons it is essential to promote the nation’s independence and its cohesion as a social and political organism.

In economic affairs his support for monetarism and the free market – for what, in Britain, later became Thatcherism – against state intervention and corporatism was perhaps inevitable in a man of a strongly individual temperament. And who was perhaps cold and ruthless – though not in any wicked sense – enough to reject the idea of the state as a benevolent guardian protecting the ordinary citizen from potential hardship, if such was not seen as a guarantor of efficiency. I think the best comment on Thatcherism would be that it was a good idea done badly. It has now had its day, become more a liability than an asset. Its chief defect, of course, was the assumption that left to its own devices the private sector would behave sensibly, acting in the interests of the consumer as well as itself, without any need for regulation. The recession caused by the banking crisis, controversial bonuses, a situation where employees and unions are often left without any power at all, and the widening gap between rich and poor prove the assumption to be false.

Powell was wrong about the Commonwealth and about life peers. It is nice to think that the Empire lives on in a different, more acceptable form, even if it is more of a (hopefully) friendly club than an institution with real clout on the international scene. As for the Lords, a body which, let’s face it, is fundamentally undemocratic yet intended to have some influence over policy, even if it can only delay legislation, would be entirely impossible to defend if it did not make some concession, at least, to merit; a man or woman is not competent just because of who their parents happen to have been. On the subject of embryo research, the ability to get what one wants from stem cells is perhaps a way of making the practice more acceptable, and therefore less controversial.

There were, of course, many other issues on which Powell commented eloquently and with passion, but there is not the space to go into them all here.

*

I may have said this already, but the more one learns about Enoch Powell, the less likely it seems that he could ever have become Prime Minister. A man who never quite accepted the twentieth century could never have functioned effectively in that capacity. At Westminster he didn’t have a proper office, working instead from the Commons library by the light of a pair of Victorian brass candlesticks. He took eccentricity and love of tradition to absurd lengths. The pinstripe suit and homburg he often wore seemed to belong to an earlier era. His habits and his frequent prickliness would have made him difficult if not impossible to work with (being Prime Minister requires very different skills from those involved in simply holding ministerial office). The kind of relationship between the person at the top, and their subordinates in whatever capacity, which is essential in such a situation (a different one from giving orders as an army officer, which of course Powell had done during the war, and having them obeyed without question) would have been impossible. Moreover, evasiveness and double-dealing have always characterised politics to some extent and the greater the power one yields, and the higher the stakes, the more such tactics are likely to be employed if they seem the best, perhaps the only, way of getting what you want. A man of Powell’s integrity would have found the ethical compromises forced on him by the office impossible to make. Altogether, the idea of Powell as PM just doesn’t ring true. But assuming he ever had a chance of reaching the top in the first place, and the fact that he stood for the Tory leadership in 1965 suggests he would have liked to, what lessons can those wishing to challenge the political establishment on crucial issues learn from his failure to do so? There are several. We have already mentioned the need to explain one’s beliefs properly. Secondly you must be prepared to organise support for yourself. Powell never tried to create an official political party to back him up; had he done so the course of his career and of British politics might have been very different. But he felt that kind of thing was beneath him. His very individualism, and his excessively high standards, stood in the way of his success.

But it is worth noting that the results of Schoen’s research into the basis and the extent of Powell’s support in the country and in parliament suggest more people admired him than were prepared to campaign actively in his favour, whether inside or outside the official Tory Party machine. As is the case in such situations, an “Enoch Powell Party” would probably have consisted of the kind of people whose support Powell would not actually have wanted. Furthermore, by not organising his supporters in the same way that right- or left-wing parties on the Continent have tended to do (something the British character balks at in any case), Powell might well have saved his life. With a coherent and distinct party machine (“Powellight” was not that) behind him he would have seemed more of an effective threat to racial harmony and might well have been assassinated, either by black militants or by MI5 seeking to eliminate a danger to peaceful community relations and thus the stability of the realm.

What, then, was Enoch Powell’s contribution? What did he achieve? The answer to this is not immediately apparent, which has enabled his critics to mock him, as did Private Eye (no doubt under the influence of Paul Foot) in the edition which came out just after his death, where he is mentioned as the man who ran the Footpaths Committee in the parish of St Albions in 1958. But he achieved rather more than is apparent at first sight. He was, for a time, a political force to be reckoned with despite not being a party leader or holding ministerial office, because of the support he commanded within the country. He could boast that he had turned Labour out in 1970 and put them back in in 1974. He has been called the original Thatcherite, his monetarist economic policies anticipating those which later were actually implemented by the Conservatives, although it is probably true to say the Thatcherite revolution would have happened regardless of what Powell had believed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. He was a good Minister of Health, although one biographer of Iain Macleod, whose subject served in the same post for a time, remarks that Powell came over as an efficient inspector, Macleod as a man who cared. He was responsible by his badgering for a considerable reduction in the scale of immigration (gaining on this issue roughly half of what he had wanted). And, viewed from any angle, his career is of importance precisely because he did fail to attain the dizzy heights of Number Ten, or anything approaching it. It shows the strength, for better or for worse, of the existing mainstream political system.

Otherwise, whether the achievement has survived is more doubtful. Any benefits to be gained from cutting immigration have been offset in recent years by the general increase in those entering the country, often illegally, both from within the EU, between whose members there now operates an “open door” policy – and outside it, along with the influx of what are known as “asylum seekers”, and the continuing growth in the ethnic minority population already here, a more controversial issue. The other causes for which Powell fought now seem hopelessly lost. The general assault on traditional British identities from political correctness, and the increasing intrusion, often in absurd ways, of the ever-more powerful EU into national life would have saddened and sickened him. As would devolution for Scotland and Wales, perhaps a prelude to the breakup of a United Kingdom he always strove to keep intact, and in particular the “West Lothian” question; the haemorrhaging of power from his beloved parliament to presidential-style Prime Ministers; and the debasement of public life by spin doctors and by the premiership of Tony Blair (a fundamentally decent man, albeit with strange delusions, who was naïve, immature and manipulated by people in some ways cleverer and undoubtedly far nastier than himself). It was fortunate that Powell never lived to see the worst of all this. Globally, the decline in Britain’s status would seem to be irreversible. It stems from a historical process which neither Powell nor anyone else could have arrested. Its native mineral resources having become exhausted, Britain no longer has the economic strength to be a world power in other than relative terms; accordingly she is subject to decisions made in the US, Germany, Japan, and latterly China and India. She does not have the means to pursue an independent role in world affairs and must choose between Europe (which means submerging her identity in an emerging federal superstate that is becoming increasingly autocratic) and America (potentially unfortunate given the results of Tony Blair’s entanglement with George W Bush, which one can hear Powell’s ghost bemoaning for he was always against military involvement where no actual threat to the security of the United Kingdom was evident). She does at least retain her nuclear deterrent, although how far she could use it without US permission is debatable (probably not very far actually). Powell was always dubious about the value of having a weapon which, unless you were mad, you would probably never use anyway; however, no-one could ever be 100% sure you wouldn’t, and it is that uncertainty, however slight, which allows the deterrent to work, preventing both nuclear wars and conventional ones which could be just as devastating or, depending on their extent, even more so. This was another area where Powell, rigidly logical, failed to understand the illogical (perhaps) thinking of other people.

It is difficult to say what Powell would have thought of power-sharing and the political changes made in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday agreement; but essentially, what has happened in Ulster, and has made real progress possible, is an effective separation of the civil rights issue from that of whether there should be a “united Ireland”. This ought to have pleased Powell, whether or not it would have done, since preserving Ulster’s status as part of the United Kingdom was his main concern.


*

Enoch Powell was a person of contrasts; a man who could be very warm and friendly one moment and very cold and unfriendly at another. One could put it down to having been an only child, which is known to sometimes (though by no means always) have that effect (witness Arthur Scargill). His apparent rudeness was a result of a shyness which persisted all through his adult life. Even when a distinguished parliamentarian of many years standing, he still confessed to an attack of nerves before getting up to make a speech.

There could have been something else, too (and others have realised that, as a trawling of the internet will show). In Powell one can recognise some, at least, of the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome, a medical condition not fully diagnosed until 1994. There need be nothing offensive about such a suggestion. Many sufferers are, like Powell, highly intelligent. They are child prodigies of enormous talent and ability who can sometimes find it difficult to emotionally relate to others. They are single-minded to the point of being obsessive. They may dislike change and identify very closely with the ethnic and national community into which they were born. They may experience frustration and failure later on, through their own personalities or the failure of others to understand them, and be marginalised in a way which prevents society from making full use of their talents. They can stubbornly cling to points of view even when they are erroneous. They can find it hard to relax. They can be highly emotional and their behaviour at times eccentric. They can sometimes stare fixedly. They are less likely to care what others think of them, though they may in the first place have chosen whatever course of action they did with methodical precision (which can also be a symptom of the condition).

Asperger’s is far more common than is usually realised (one current theory is that as many as 5-7% of the population suffer from it in some form). Mozart, Isaac Newton and possibly Einstein are among historical figures thought to have had it. It also takes a variety of forms, which is why one hears talk of the “autism spectrum”. There is a horizontal as well as a vertical division between the different forms of the condition. Aspergers is a matter of kind as well as degree. As with other types of autism some sufferers are barely articulate, cannot communicate, find contact of any sort with others repellent and are prone to embarrassing behaviour in public (though the worst of this is often overcome as the sufferer progresses from child- to adulthood). Others speak beautiful English (as Powell did), run their own companies, can form friendships and be happily married with two children (as Powell was). Some can be unfeeling and others deeply compassionate.

The characteristics that Powell and I both had in common could possibly have been explained by Asperger’s, and the more I came to realise I had the condition the more I became interested in him. His insensitive side (though I like to think I lack it) might be due to it, and it might also explain a particularly strong attachment to his own culture and nationality. It might make it easier for someone to speak out on an issue they felt strongly about even though they knew some would find their views offensive; but this isn’t the same thing as being socially unaware or lacking emotional intelligence. It would be more true to say that autism affects different people in different ways.

It would be degrading to Enoch Powell, as to anyone else with the condition, to suggest that everything they did and said and thought was down to it; such is often a tactic used by one’s enemies to portray as the product of illness (if that is the right way to describe the condition) a belief with which they don’t happen to be comfortable as a way of discrediting it, whatever they think of the “sufferer.” Many faults are not a preserve of those who happen to have Asperger Syndrome. I expect that Powell would have held the views he did whether he had had the condition or not; he was just more likely to be more forthright in the way he expressed them. Depending on the severity of the condition, it does not mean that one is not responsible for one’s actions. That can hardly be true of a man who deliberated for some time before making up his mind on important issues – and who waited so long before speaking out the way he did on immigration, another thing held against him by those who accuse him of hypocrisy, precisely because of the unpleasantness he knew it would cause.

On political issues he was a pragmatist, rather than a wicked man. He felt that because time had made them irreversible the consequences of the English occupation of Ulster should be accepted whether that event had been right or wrong; he was not denying that the British could wrong the Irish, that Unionists could mistreat Nationalists. On race his view would have been that if, in Heaven, there were no nation states and anyone could live wherever they liked without damaging others’ sense of identity, that would be fine (he was, for most of his life, a Christian, albeit of an increasingly unorthodox kind as he grew older). But the earthly world was not a perfect one and while it endured you had to play the game according to its rules, which meant being realistic – in his case, because of the flaws in his character, brutally and coldly so.

I suspect the less attractive aspects of his personality were things he couldn’t easily help; we know the reason for them. Much else stemmed from sincere personal conviction, rather than perversity. From a Christian point of view, if he still believed, albeit in his own peculiar way, in the necessity of redemption through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice then perhaps he has a place in Heaven. I would certainly like to think so.

December 2012