Enoch at 100: A Re-evaluation of the life, politics and philosophy of Enoch Powell
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It was immediately denounced in the media and by party leaders: Heath sacked him from the shadow Cabinet. However, there were marches by workers in support of his stance, and opinion polls showed majority support for his views. It was a speech that both made him and destroyed him. Overnight, he became a national figure and a political pariah.
During the —74 parliament, Powell was the leading Conservative critic of the Heath government, voting against it on occasions. He opposed especially the U-turns on the economy and industry in and the European Communities Bill , seeing the bill as a betrayal of British sovereignty.
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He was one of fifteen Tory MPs to vote against the government in in a vote of confidence on the second reading of the bill. The party leadership considered withdrawing the party whip from him, but concluded that this would simply give him added publicity as well as be counter-productive, given that he was so well entrenched in his constituency. A dedicated Unionist, he was adopted as the Ulster Unionist candidate for South Down and was elected in the general election of October He held the seat until , narrowly holding on in the by-election in , triggered when Unionist MPs resigned to force and fight by-elections in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
He lost the seat by votes in His time as an Ulster Unionist MP was somewhat fraught, the integrationist Powell clashing at times with his devolutionist Ulster colleagues. The loss of his seat left him with no clear sense of purpose and no dedicated routine. Towards the end of his life, he suffered a number of falls. He died on 8 February A distinguished academic and soldier, Powell was an outstanding debater. His speeches were honed and compelling. His speech, delivered in the early hours of 28 July , on the deaths of Mau Mau detainees in the Hola camp in Kenya, was one of the most outstanding delivered in the House of Commons in the latter half of the twentieth century.
His reputation after he returned to the back benches in was such that MPs would fill the chamber to hear his speeches. He was noted for taking an independent line, even when in the shadow Cabinet. He opposed holding nuclear weapons and maintaining a presence east of Suez. His views were distinctive, at times verging on the extreme: his acute distrust of the USA, acquired during the war, led him to see the hand of the CIA in the death of Lord Mountbatten; he believed the Earl of Oxford penned the works of Shakespeare.
Though he advanced powerful arguments in support of his beliefs, he made no effort to craft a body of supporters. He relied on eloquence rather than organisation.
Though he drew other Conservative MPs into the lobby with him on most occasions that he opposed the Heath government, he never generated a coherent political philosophy. There were Powellites — MPs who agreed with him on a good many though not all issues — but no Powellism.
Prophet of doom
He was, in essence, a Tory neo-liberal, wedded to institutions but believing in economic and social freedom. His advocacy, not least of the free market, influenced others including Margaret Thatcher , but he had few political achievements to his name. His greatest was in joining with Michael Foot to frustrate and eventually destroy the Parliament No. Powell — who co-authored The House of Lords in the Middle Ages — was a passionate supporter of the Upper House, the product of prescription. Though a great parliamentarian, he recognised his limitations as a politician.
Enoch Powell operated on a different plane. If the euro fails, then Europe fails. She repeated this in starker terms on 26 October. The German Chancellor, like the ancient Roman, now seemed to see the Tiber foaming with much blood:. Another half-century of peace and prosperity in Europe is not to be taken for granted.
Prophet of doom | The Spectator
If the euro fails, Europe fails. None of us can foresee what the consequences would be if we were to fail. Historical determinism is never appealing, generally coercive and rarely borne out by events. What would Enoch Powell have said to those government leaders, who, unlike Mr Cameron, so far, have bound their peoples to this new Verpflichtung obligation to protect a single currency?
He had this simple advice for the English people thirty years ago:. If the United Kingdom and Germany … were part of a single unit with a single currency, then of course the less efficient producers would be knocked out. That is why Germany is so keen for Britain to go into the European Monetary System, so that it can wipe out the British industries with which it is in competition … What we need not fear, however so long as we remain a nation with our own currency and allow the exchange rate of that currency to move freely, is that our inferior productivity … will drive us out of international trade or impoverish us, de-industrialise us, or leave us without the means to import food.
All these are bogies to be relegated to the world of Hans Andersen. Between and Germany ran a current balance of payments surplus of 6.
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The euro blocks the floating exchange rate adjustments that would correct this. Instead, EU leaders are creating political structures to impose punishing austerity on the Mediterranean nations and defend the comfortable economic space that the eurozone provides for the north.
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Enoch Powell forecast such compulsion long ago:. A common currency means common government; the one is meaningless and impossible without the other. Accept common money and you have accepted common government … If one threatens to diverge, what happens? Who then is going to do the dictating? Where will be that common government which a common currency implies?
Quite the reverse. This is not about freedom; it is about compulsion. For the purposes of this chapter, the success or otherwise of the latest attempt to prevent a shipwreck of the euro does not matter.
But it would be polite to note that some do sleep better knowing there are ravens with clipped wings in the Tower of London, for, of course, if the ravens fail, the United Kingdom will fail. Over that time the year-old supremacy of the Westminster Parliament and the domestic rule of law, hard won in the travails of civil wars, army dictatorship and revolution, has evaporated. For some in the s, that was necessary.
For most, the far distant, or carefully veiled, objective of a European unity beyond free trade was unnoticed, uninteresting if instinctively unappealing and, critically, as a result, unthreatening. Enoch Powell sought to tear away the veil and reveal a present danger. But his compelling sense of nation made the issue of the EEC one that for him came to override all others.
It led him to give up his safe seat as a Conservative in and to urge his fellow Tories to vote for the socialist foe. Yet the charge is that in the s and s he did not throw at the EEC any of the kind of rhetoric he was to use in the s and s. Only after Heath sacked him from the shadow Cabinet, the charge goes on, did Powell voice opposition to that idealistic cause of European unity with which Heath, above all, was identified.
Hatred of the man was a goad to his hostility to the EEC. True or false, that charge is an irrelevance. High politics is as often shaped by enmities as affinities.
Enoch at 100: a re-evaluation of the life, politics and philosophy of Enoch Powell
Sometimes enmities have beneficial consequence. But if he could save the English nation from the folly, as he came to see it, of signing the Treaty of Rome and hang Heath at the yardarm as well, that was worth a Te Deum indeed.
It was being brainwashed into thinking itself the sick man of Europe. It is time we stood up and told our accusers where they get off. That attempt had failed. This is the same fallacy as to suppose that, as rich people frequent nightclubs, we ourselves have only to go to a nightclub in order to become rich … Unless and until the inhabitants of different parts of Europe are so penetrated with a sense of their ultimate common interest that they will accept burdens and disadvantages for the benefit of the whole or of other parts, the attempt to create an elective assembly or parliament would be foredoomed not merely to disappointment but to ridicule and mutual recrimination.
Powell swiftly drove past the economic case for the Common Market, which he had now discarded, to examine the critical institutional implications for Parliament and nation. Self-confidence based on national self-knowledge — myth of Empire and Commonwealth — pity if succeeded by the myth of European union. However, it does show that his Tory instincts and search for a language of self-confident, but realistic, nationalism were snagging on and jarring against the emerging political purposes of the EEC.
He said he detected a change in national mood. People are … no longer prepared to be led blind, as they might have been seven or eight years ago, on a general hunch. It was one thing to oppose the Labour government when it introduced the British Nationality Act of , which Powell found abhorrent because it took away allegiance to the crown as the basis of citizenship. He spoke from the back benches against racial abuses in the British Empire, giving a famous speech in denouncing the treatment of Mau Mau prisoners by the British authorities in Kenya with little heed for his own political advancement.
As minister for health he was responsible for the NHS, that immense monument to state socialism; instead of setting out to starve the beast, he browbeat the Treasury into an expensive programme of hospital-building. Aneurin Bevan, the architect of the NHS, liked to say that nothing was too good for the working class; Powell was showing that nothing was too good for the British nation.
Intuition rather than economic logic guided him. Powell is viewed as a politician for whom words were crucially significant, not just as building-blocks for making logical arguments but in hinting, evoking, appealing, affirming and celebrating. Those were the words in the headlines, but Powell did not use that exact phrase on 20 April , or even offer it as his translation from the Latin in the press handout. Powell had stood against Heath for the leadership in , gaining the votes of only 15 MPs.
In Birmingham, and not for the first time, Powell chose to speak on race relations. He begins in a characteristic reflective mode, already old-fashioned in and unthinkable from a leading politician today. In seeking to do so, it encounters obstacles which are deeply rooted in human nature. For the meaning of any statement is not established simply by looking up the origin of the words themselves, and where they have been used before. The context in which the words meet the audience for whom they are intended is also relevant.
Powell was not addressing the House of Commons, and he knew, as a local MP, who would form his audience. He was explicitly raising the concerns of his own constituents, and in their idiom as much as his.