Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Enoch, Enoch, Enoch

So it was a stopped clock after all. Heffer returns to form in his article in today's Telegraph in which he declares that the time is ripe to reclaim the heritage of Enoch Powell, that Powell was definitely not a racist, and that the Tories were stupid to have sought Nigel Hastilow's resignation over his statement, however ambiguous, that 'Enoch was right'.
There are, in fact, elements of sense within the article - although I remain unconvinced that Powell did not foresee the likely outcome of his speech. Powell was certainly academically brilliant, becoming a Fellow of All Souls. That this is not necessarily a qualification for political genius is amply demonstrated by the other recent MP to have achieved such status - John Redwood. But what Heffer misses is that, if one seeks, as he purport to do, a debate on immigration that actually has an outcome, the worst thing, literally the very worst thing, that one can do is to say 'Enoch was right'. For Enoch Powell is no longer the Conservative/Ulster Unionist MP of the middle of the century. He is rather a shorthand for the entire racial politics of the 1950s, the 'If you want a nigger for a neighbour' times. Despite his intellect, despite his charisma, despite his undoubted prescience in the field of monetarist economics, the best thing we can do with Enoch Powell for now is to forget him.
Perhaps, in another twenty years or so, there will be scope for a good revisionist biography that points out where he was right, where he was wrong, and where he was deliberately provocative. That time has not come, and his very name makes debate on immigration impossible. If Heffer doesn't see that, he is of course at liberty to fulminate that 'Enoch was right' as long as he likes. Let him see what sort of debate that produces.
UPDATE: Racist or not, Powell appears to have been a rather challenging dinner companion.

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