And indeed why does it matter? I was not very surprised when the Telegraph came up on Dec 13th with a story that twenty years ago, Nigel Farage had invited (or “begged”, as they span it) Enoch Powell to endorse UKIP and to stand for the party. I was surprised that the Telegraph saw fit to give the story star billing as the lead headline. Perhaps (as I Tweeted on the day) that has something to do with the fact that there’s a General Election coming in a few months. Maybe the Telegraph believes that there is still some stigma in the public mind associated with Enoch Powell, so that they can damage UKIP by association. I think they’re wrong.
Enoch Powell was a soldier, a statesman and a scholar. Contrary to the leftist myth, he was not a racist. He served in India, and was highly regarded and respected by Indian troops under his command. And he never did use the phrase “Rivers of Blood”, though it passed into media myth and public consciousness — rather as Rick, in “Casablanca”, never said “Play it again, Sam”, but everyone thinks he did.
Enoch Powell had been an effective government Minister, and he was certainly acceptable to the Ulster Unionists, whom he joined in 1974. He passionately believed in the independence of his country, and he foresaw, perhaps more accurately than most people before or since, the dire consequences of the EU integration that our leaders foolishly accepted. He also anticipated the effects of mass immigration, expecting (quite rightly, as it has proved) that mass immigration would place intolerable pressures on social cohesion and social infrastructure (yes, and overcrowded motorways).
But he declined to join UKIP in 1994. Why? Well in those days it was possible to make the case that UKIP was a small party that might go nowhere, and that the Conservative Party had the potential to become the champion of British Independence. In these days, that case can no longer be made. Powell’s two great issues, Europe and immigration, just happen to be UKIP’s two great issues today. And they resonate with voters today just as in Powell’s day.
Nonetheless, Powell’s former archivist Richard Ritchie comes out and says that Powell would have regarded Farage and UKIP as “denying the British people a referendum on Europe” by taking support from the Tories who have promised a referendum. Maybe that shallow analysis explains why Powell was the statesman and Mr. Ritchie was the archivist.
The great thing about Powell was his laser-like clarity of thought. He could strip away the cant and the false assumptions and get to the core of issues. If he were around today, he would make mincemeat of Cameron’s vaunted promise of a referendum. He would note that Cameron offered one once before, and failed to deliver. He would have recognised that significant renegotiation of the EU treaties is not an option, and that the only way out is to leave. He would have torn into Cameron’s ambiguity about what he will do when his renegotiation is seen to fail. And he would conclude, as UKIP concludes, that the Cameron promise is nothing to do with having a referendum, and everything to do with Conservative prospects in the 2015 General Election.
He would also note that all the movement achieved in recent months — the concerns of the main-stream parties on immigration and the EU — has been driven by UKIP’s success, and would not have happened without it. Far from “denying the British people a referendum”, UKIP is taking action which brings Independence Day closer. And every UKIP vote carries us forward to that objective.