Peter Oborne: Remembering Enoch Powell A Century After His Birth

Roundup: Talking About History

Peter Oborne is the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator.

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.
This ugly background makes it extremely interesting that Iain Duncan Smith, one of our most senior cabinet ministers, should have written the introduction to a superb set of essays published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Mr Powell’s birth on Saturday. Simply by lending his name to such a venture, Mr Duncan Smith is making an implicit claim to stand in some part of the Powell tradition. Even a decade ago it would have been career death for any mainstream politician to have done this, let alone a cabinet minister.
Something has changed. What is it? Part of the answer is that Powell’s thought, writing, speeches and indeed the memory of his massive personality have powerfully survived after his death. Most politicians, trapped inside the circumstances of the time in which they live, are of interest only to historians once they die. This was emphatically true of Powell’s contemporaries – Macleod, Selwyn Lloyd, Heath, Thorneycroft, Maudling etc.
Yet, 100 years after his birth, 14 years after his death and a quarter of a century after his retirement from active politics, Enoch Powell still speaks to the British people in a very direct way that seems prophetic. He is more modern than most of our modern politicians...

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