As regular readers will know I am currently ploughing through Simon Heffer's stately biography of Enoch Powell. The question most often asked about Powell is whether or not his 1968 speech in Birmingham was racist in character and furthermore was the man himself?
I believe that their is no easy answer to this question, I suspect that Powell did hold some deeply racist views but he was not a racist in the extreme sense of the word, ie someone who hates someone purely for the colour of their skin. His use of language and belief in Englishness of blood rather than citizenship or birth makes my skin crawl. For example when he said, quoting a letter, 'the black man will have the whip hand over the white man' he expressed the deepest and darkest racist sentiments of fear based on race, fear of the savage, fear of the stranger and fear of being weak in the face of overwhelming primitive force. Many of the excuses made for Powell and his speech are feeble given the man's intelligence and ambition, he knew what he was saying and he knew the impact it would have. There is no excuse for quoting rumour and prejudice as evidence and no excuse for pandering to fear of difference.
Interestingly much of the thought behind the 'Rivers of Blood' Speech came from his time in America and his perception of race relations in the USA. I wonder how he would have reacted to Obama's election as US president?
Powell was not a monster but he was foolish and arrogant. His belief in the English nation and its qualities was based on the boys own comics he read as a child. He believed in a a permanence of institutions, culture and values that not does not exist either here or anywhere else. Nothing is permanent and English values and customs are constructions largely Victorian in origin but often with deep roots. My favourite example of this is England's reputation (or myth) as a land of animal lovers when over a few generations ago we revelled in bear baiting, fix hunting, hear running and cock fighting.
Anyhow I shall continue my adventures in Enoch land and report further findings later.
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