There are times when politicians (perhaps feeling gaily indiscreet, enjoying their lunch greatly, or just wanting to say for once what’s actually on their damn minds) utter things in print that are deemed to trespass ‘beyond the pale’ of the sayable, if not the thinkable. And in doing so they generally make a great deal of trouble both for themselves and for their Party. November 2010 has been a bit of a banner month for this phenomenon, what with the resignation of the Government’s unpaid advisor Lord Young (who proposed that a majority of Britons are enjoying the best of times on account of low mortgage rates) and also the apology issued by soon-to-be-Lord Howard Flight (who contended that the benefits system dissuades ‘middle-class’ families from expanding but positively encourages those on lower incomes.) Interestingly, Flight’s remarks, made in the course of warming up to a journalist’s tape recorder, were widely compared in the media to a speech made in 1974 by Keith Joseph, cerebral co-thinker of Margaret Thatcher’s, who is thought to have ruined his hopes of leading the Conservative Party by worrying aloud about ‘degeneration’ of ‘human stock’ wrought by more and more kids being “born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and bring them up.” Of course, no newspaper hack trapped Joseph into making his trespass into the unthinkable/unsayable. He availed himself freely of the view, on a platform and from a prepared speech. So here we have a very different order of ‘crossing the line’. Is it fair to say the most (in)famous example of same in modern political history remains Enoch Powell’s so-called ‘rivers of blood’ speech ( also delivered in Birmingham, at a Conservative Association gathering in 1968)? Powell was addressing the levels of immigration to the UK and what he believed to be an inevitable failure of what we nowadays call ‘social cohesion’ and ‘integration’. Being a man for the Classics, and a wordsmith to boot, Powell made a gruesome prophecy: “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”” You probably know the rest: Powell was sacked from Heath’s shadow cabinet and turned in due course to Ulster Unionism as his chosen cause in the Commons. For better or worse, that speech defined Powell in the public consciousness, and so it is no accident that Simon Heffer took Like The Roman for the title of his huge, minutely detailed and widely admired 1998 biography of Powell, for whom he has argued as “quite simply, the most influential politician of the post-war period.” Like The Roman has found a great many new readers through its 2008 reissue in Faber Finds, and the recent furores over Conservative ‘gaffes’ and ‘missteps’ are only one (relatively minor) reason why Heffer’s Life of Powell will continue to repay study.
Simon Heffer’s Enoch Powell
29/11/2010 by richardtkelly
Posted in Appreciations, Biography, Reissues | Tagged conservative party, david (lord) young, enoch powell, faber finds, howard flight, keith joseph, like the roman (heffer), richard t kelly, simon heffer | Leave a Comment
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