Establishment pays respect

Death of Enoch Powell

Near universal praise - or at least, respect - has been heaped on Enoch Powell. His death has generated a stupefying mixture of apo­logia, veneration and historical revi­sionism. So much so in fact, that it is almost possible to forget what Powell really was - a deeply unpleasant reac­tionary who viewed the masses with loathing and true contempt.

Instead of reminding us of this so­bering reality, politicians of all hues have pointed almost superstitiously to his formidable intellectualism - such as his command of 12 languages (in­cluding Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Urdu) and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the ancient world. “There will never be another Enoch,” lamented Thatcher. Tony Blair too lined up to pay his dues: “One of the greatest figures of 20th century poli­tics with a brilliant mind.” Benn also had some kind words for Powell. Even Bill Morris described Powell as “one of the greatest intellectuals of his gen­eration, whose brilliant brain was clearly misdirected”; unlike former Tory prime minister Ted Heath, who kept a deafening silence on the de­mise of his former cabinet colleague.

Powell achieved notoriety, of course, with his ‘rivers of blood’ speech at Birmingham in April 1968, where he quoted from Virgil about “the river Tiber foaming with much blood”. He warned against the ‘clangers’ of non-white immigration, painting an apocalyptic vision of the future: “In 15 or 20 years’ time, the black man will have the whip hand.” He also worried about an elderly woman in Wolverhampton - in fact she lived in Notting­ham - having “excreta pushed through her letter box” and being chased by

“charming, wide-grinning piccanin­nies. They cannot speak English, but one word they know, ‘Racialist,’ they chant.”

In fact, it was these highly charged comments - along with his call for com­pulsory repatriation for non-white im­migrants - that caused the subsequent uproar, not least because it was couched in the language of the clas­sics. As the Financial Times put it, “His words provoked outrage among the intelligentsia” (February 9 1998). In fact, he had gone beyond the boundary of mainstream bourgeois politics. Ted Heath promptly gave him the boot from the shadow cabinet. He eventually left the Tory Party in Feb­ruary 1974 - advising people to vote Labour in the October election of that year because of Europe. He was elected Ulster Unionist member for South Down holding the seat until 1987.

Powell’s grim racism did strike a chord, of course. But amongst the ple­beian elements, not amongst the rul­ing patricians. Thanks to Powell and Powellism, 1968 saw demonstrations by elements of the working class. In­stead of long-haired leftist student radicals shouting anti-imperialist slo­gans, there were London dockers, Smithfield porters and skinheads chanting, “E-noch! E-noch!” Natu­rally, Powell’s anti-immigrant tub­-thumping rhetoric created a receptive audience for the National Front - with Powellism, to some extent, supplying it with ideological respectability. Powell, naturally, regarded the likes of dockers, porters and the NF as social scum. The British establishment, in turn, found Powell rather distaste­ful.

This reveals the essence of Enoch Powell - and Powellism. Some people have blockheadedly described Powell as being “fascist”. This is nonsense. He was a fundamentalist patrician, an ‘old-time’ (very) high Tory and ultra­-monarchist whose world view was strictly parliamentarian. Logically, as a man of snobbish refinement and learning, he had no time for the poli­tics of the streets. If he did mobilise ‘the mob’, it was accidentally.

This elitist spirit informed every­thing. He counterposed reified book learning to life and art from below. He remained a lifelong devotee of Friedrich Nietzsche. He refused to accept that William Shakespeare could have written Hamlet, on the grounds that he did not have an Oxford educa­tion. Less eccentrically, though more cynically, he promoted Christian myths - they kept the ignorant masses happy. Of course, as a scholar who could read the original languages, he therefore readily admitted that the bi­ble was man-made, not god-made. In The evolution of the gospel (1994) Powell argued that Jesus was stoned to death, not crucified - thus giving credence to the anti-Jewish ideology of Christianity and its vile claims that it was the Jews and not Roman impe­rialism which killed their man-god, Je­sus bar Maryam. Powell obviously identified with the oppressors, not the oppressed.

Powell’s cold, aloof asceticism - his love for parliament and all the royal regalia and symbols of the British es­tablishment - hardly paints a picture of a Nazi, as he was portrayed by the Anti-Nazi League. A funny Nazi who wept publicly on Radio Four because he had not been killed during World War II - to die fighting for king and country was the highest ideal he could think of.

Danny Hammill