In the Telegraph, Peter Oborne outlines the career of British parliamentarian Enoch Powell:
For years, Enoch Powell has been a monstrous figure in British politics. Even the mention of his name has been enough to invite damnation by association. Before the last election, David Cameron forced Nigel Hastilow to stand down as Conservative candidate for Halesowen after he praised Powell for being “right” about immigration.
[. . .]
With not one word changed, Powell’s speeches on Lords reform, some delivered half a century ago, could be delivered today. This is because his analysis was not dependent on day-to-day events and a transient national mood. His approach was based on first principles, extraordinary learning and a rigorous understanding of the British constitution.
It was this intellectual clarity which caused him to oppose British entry to what was then known as the Common Market. At the start of 1971, during the final stage of negotiations, Powell took himself round Europe speaking in Turin (in Italian), Frankfurt (in German) and Lyon (in French). As he remarked: “There is no more ignorant vulgarity than to treat language as an impediment to intercourse, which education, habit, travel, trade, abolish and then remove.” He used these speeches to warn his French, Italian and German audiences that the British tradition of national sovereignty and parliamentary democracy was incompatible with European economic and political union.
[. . .]
But now we must come to Enoch Powell’s notorious speeches on immigration, which have defined his posthumous reputation and established his pariah status. He challenged the culture of denial that surrounded the subject even then, predicting that the immigrant community would rise much faster than official statistics suggested. His claims were denounced as alarmist and irresponsible, even by The Daily Telegraph. As Tom Bower shows in a well-researched and fair-minded essay, Powell’s projections turned out to be much nearer the truth than the official ones.
[. . .]
The case for the defence goes like this: at the time immigration was surrounded by a culture of silence, and Powell was doing no more than bravely voicing the concerns (and using the language) of his constituents. He was no racist, as even opponents like Michael Foot acknowledged, and as his stance over the Hola Camp suggests. And let’s not forget that Powell, who had a brilliant war, risked his life for five years in the fight against fascism. But I am certain that the Conservative Party was right to drive him out for his remarks, which had the malign effect that no mainstream politician dared raise the issue of immigration for a generation.
For some, this single episode has been enough to damn his memory, and that can be understood. But Enoch Powell was a man of extraordinary integrity. He walked alone. To quote the late Daily Telegraph commentator TE Utley, doing his best to stand up for Powell in the wake of the notorious “rivers of blood” speech of April 1968: “He does not believe that politics is a hand-to-mouth affair, a succession of expedients to meet unforeseen and unforeseeable circumstances.”
Update, 19 June: In the Telegraph, Brendan O’Neill points out that modern anti-racists actually have more in common with Powell than they may realize:
What was the key prejudice in Enoch Powell’s infamous 1968 speech, which everyone is talking about again following Powell’s 100th birthday? It wasn’t actually hatred of immigrants, whom Powell believed to be ambitious, ferociously so. Rather it was fear of native Britons. It was fear of what white Brits, or what Powell referred to as the “ordinary working man”, might do if more and more foreigners turned up in their towns.
Indeed, Powell explicitly argued that “the sense of alarm and resentment lies not with the immigrant population but with those among whom they have come”. It was these people, he said, these “ordinary Englishmen”, who posed a threat to the social order, since their anti-immigrant anger had become so intense that to introduce more immigrants would be to “risk throwing a match in to gunpowder”. In short, “ordinary working men” were a powder-keg of unpredictable emotions whom the state should try its best not to antagonise. Or as Powell put it, “The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils”, including the evil of “ordinary working men” having their “alarm and resentment” further stirred up.
Even Powell’s most notorious line — “like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood” — was a prediction not of immigrant behaviour but of native British violence against immigrants. Powell said native Brits, “for reasons which they could not comprehend” (presumably because they were a bit dim), were feeling dangerously like “strangers in their own country”.