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Saturday 16 June 2012

The Tragedy Of Enoch Powell

The right leaning part of the press does not easily pass up a chance to try and rehabilitate the memory of one John Enoch Powell, and despite his having died long ago, that name is all over the Mail and Maily Telegraph once again in celebration of what would have been his hundredth birthday. So, for one more time, the message is pushed that Enoch Was Right All Along.

It's That Cover Again

And in the vanguard is, once again, the preposterously pompous and puffed-up Simon Heffer, for whom anything and everything that Powell said or did was not merely without fault, but the sign of a “titanic intellect [and] subtlety of mind”. We hear that Powell later reckoned that, had he given his Virgil quote in the original Latin, his 1968 speech on immigration would have caused less fuss.

Well, dead right it wouldn’t: for starters, none of the hacks reporting on it would have had a clue what he was going on about, and those in the Tory Party who did would have given each other a nod and a wink and then kept schtum. This does not occur to the Hefferlump, who instead drones on about how many languages Powell spoke (but thankfully does not segue into the Python travel agent sketch).

Heffer is backed up by the even more odious Quentin Letts (let’s not) who tries and fails to slip in a strawman at the outset: “For years, Enoch Powell’s name has caused convulsions among the intolerant left”. Bullshit. Who chucked him out of the shadow cabinet? Which party did he fall out with? That would be the Tories. Anyone on the left either enjoyed the spectacle or wasn’t fussed.

At least Peter Oborne at the Tel manages to provide some balance to this idea of painting Powell as some kind of latter-day prophet. Yes, Powell brought great intellectual gravitas to subjects like Lords reform, but of his infamous Birmingham speech, “The bloodshed he forecast has not occurred, while his language was dreadful”. If only others at the same paper could muster equal candour.

Instead, Ed “Case” West tells of how Powell foresaw “the European Project [that] has left the continent in ruins”. No Ed, that was World War 2. Do try and keep up. And then there is Charles Moore, asserting that “Powell was, until the rise of Margaret Thatcher, the most famous politician in Britain”. Baloney. By 1979 Powell was more or less forgotten. Heath, Wilson and Callaghan were and are better known.

The only reason that Powell is remembered today – apart from his speech in 1968 and subsequent departure from the Tory Party – is that the press keeps dragging up his memory. But, equally, they keep getting it wrong: Enoch Powell sacrificed his political career at the altar of fake and cheap populism. If there is an ancient classical connection, it is one of Greek tragedy, not Latin legend.

It would make a sad and yet compelling film. Perhaps I can interest Sir Kenneth.

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