In Defence of Enoch Powell

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”

Some weeks ago I had the misfortune of an audience with Dennis MacShane. The subject, as ever, was Brexit, and Mr MacShane was riffing on the usual themes: voting to leave was a stupid act by stupid people, self-sabotage motivated by the lies of Boris Johnson (Mr MacShane knows a lie about money when he sees one) and undignified xenophobic animus.

“You’re probably too young to know about Enoch Powell,” MacShane said, looking to illustrate his point. “No,” said my classmates. “Right,” said MacShane. “Vile racist.”

Most of my classmates agreed, thus confirming his initial supposition.

That such a thing can be so widely believed is surely evidence of madness.

There are innumerable relics of Powell’s era who are forgotten. There are many who are feted who do not deserve to be, the likes of Eric Hobsbawm, who championed half the worthy causes adopted by Powell and only those that did not impede the abolition of Britain as a nation. And there are plenty more, like Michael Foot (for those of my generation who know nothing of him, he was a thinking man’s Corbyn), who deserve to be remembered, and who considered Powell an occasional opponent and a constant friend.

Take his name from his record, and Powell might well be lauded. He opposed capital and corporal punishment and argued for humanitarian reforms in the prison system. He called for homosexuality to be decriminalised. He opposed the Vietnam war, and American imperialism more broadly, making him better, by the usual standards of our day, than the Labour government of his. And he was in a real sense an ‘anti-Fascist’, having been amongst the first to enlist in 1939, eventually to be deployed against Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Tony Benn was never more unjust than when, in response to Powell’s so-called ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, he said that “the flag of racialism” raised by Powell resembled that flown over Birkenau.

Yet it is that speech, and the connotations, some accurate but most specious, drawn from it by his opponents, which has come to define him. In the half-century since it was made Powell’s legacy has been reduced to that of a cheap racist.

He was in a real sense an ‘anti-Fascist,’ who fought against Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

He was anything but. I could make this point without recourse to his time in and love of India, his refusal to dine in a club that would not admit his friend, the Indian general Carriappa. I could do so without mentioning that he became a polyglot, proficient not least in several dialects native to India, unknown to modern ‘internationalists’, because he believed “there is no more ignorant vulgarity than to treat language as an impediment to intercourse, which education, habit, travel, trade abolish.”

I could do so without reference to his speech on the Hola Camp massacre, which Dennis Healey called “the greatest parliamentary speech I ever heard.” Though in this case, and to quote Powell, “I do not have the right not to do so.” For that speech contains the most vital essence of all arguments for racial equality, which is to say that in it he affirmed, against the popular mores of his party and his day, that matters of race are irrelevant to justice.

In response to colleagues who sought to excuse the murder of 11 Mau Mau sympathisers on the grounds that said sympathisers were ‘sub-human’, Powell said:

“I would say it is a fearful doctrine, which must recoil upon the heads of those who pronounce it, to stand in judgement on a fellow human being and to say, “Because he is such-and-such, therefore the consequences which would otherwise flow from his death shall not flow.”

As he went on to say: “Nor can we ourselves pick and choose where and in what part of the world we shall use this or that standard. We cannot say, “We will have African standards in Africa, Asian standards in Asia, and perhaps British standards here at home.” We have not that choice to make. We must be consistent with ourselves everywhere. All government, all influence of men upon men rests on opinion.

What we can do in Africa, where we still govern, and where we no longer govern, depends upon the opinion which is entertained of the way in which this country acts and the way in which Englishmen act. We cannot, we dare not, in Africa of all places, fall below our own highest standards in the acceptance of responsibility.”

In other words, that whatever differences in stature may exist between peoples because of their circumstances, a crime against man is a crime against man regardless of that stature or those circumstances. There are no inherent differences between peoples that can justify discrimination in the eyes of justice, and no material differences either.

This is of vital importance to anyone looking to defend, not only the man, but the speech for which he is best-known; his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, about which there are several common misconceptions. Some are encouraged by his wrong-headed choice of quotations, but none bears scrutiny.

Dennis Healey called Powell’s Hola Camp speech “the greatest parliamentary speech I ever heard.”

The most important of these is that Powell was addressing himself to matters of race as we would now understand the term—that he believed in a fundamental inherent difference between ‘whites’ and ‘coloureds’, and that his objection to immigration stemmed from a belief in the incompatibility of the same.

He was not. His concern was cultural, not racial. Pressed on this question by noted conservative author William F. Buckley Jr., Powell explained that skin colour is indicative of a difference, not the determiner of it. Difference of colour was not important in itself but it tended – or tends – to signify an important difference.

In this he went less far than many modern Leftist identitarians, products of the long procession of legalistic grievance-making not begun but certainly intensified by the Race Relations Act of 1968, to which Powell objected in his speech. They say that skin colour is and must always be a profound difference between peoples, that it signifies, and is in itself, a bridge that cannot be crossed.

This is a position not unlike racialism, and is itself proof of the cultural difference of which Powell was speaking: a product of the wholesale importation of peoples from ‘alien’ cultures at far too great a pace to allow for integration or assimilation, for absorption into a homogenous native state, for the forming of cultural bonds, including investment into that state, by the new arrivals.

Its result has been ‘multiculturalism’, which has come to mean the presence in the same territory of ghettoised monocultures, increasingly exclusive to themselves, and alien to the state, in which, sometimes rightly, they feel they cannot invest, it being unwilling or unable to invest in them.

Powell’s objection to this, and to the Race Relations Act which sought to criminalise reaction against it, stemmed, not from any racial animus, but his belief that mass immigration and the Race Relations Act represented intolerable restrictions upon freedom of association, restrictions which would lead to the abolition of important liberties and societal disintegration thereafter.

Failure to grasp this point, by the government of his day and by every government since, explains the surprise, alarm and disgust shown by the political class against, for example, our vote to leave the EU, and indeed to any and all instances where public dissatisfaction with immigration policy makes itself felt.

Politicians of all parties have singularly failed to understand why it is that, having never trusted the public to vote on the issue, and instead imposed these policies upon them, the public turns to ‘extremes’. Most of these ‘extremes’ are not extreme at all, because the plain meaning of words exists separately from the establishment lexicon. Those few which are extreme, like the brief and overstated rise of the BNP some years ago, are themselves the product of mainstream political recalcitrance.

Multiculturalism has come to mean the presence in the same territory of ghettoised monocultures.

If you deny people a say on fundamental questions of public policy, especially those concerning national identity, you have denied them choice but not agency. By denying them that choice, and by castigating those reasonable people who would speak for them as vile racists, you determine that agency: public opinion, like a blaze, burns down the path of least resistance, and pools in the only places you have allowed it to pool, the extremes.

Powell’s speech began: “The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils.” The Brixton Riots, 7/7, Manchester Arena and, I would contend, London’s present surge in violent crime were all preventable evils. They might not have foamed the river Tiber with blood but it has taken on a definite reddish hue. They, like all the episodes of our collapsing society, might have been prevented by asking rather than forcing the people to consent to their associations; by asking them If they would consent, rather than forcing them to accept, the annual inflow, not of 50,000 but of several hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year; by preserving the nation by consent, not transforming it by force.

These riots, these terrorist atrocities, these gangland murders and racial attacks are all preventable evils, or were once so. Their prevalence is testament to failure, on the part of all our leaders, by any measure of statesmanship.

And on that, Enoch was right.