10 OCTOBER 1970, Page 8

Powell and the Tory party

The Pariah and the Election


Readers of the sPEcrAroa—and others— will be interested to know that this latest book* on Enoch Powell contains contribu-1 tions from both the new editor and the new literary editor of this journal. That of the latter, Mr Maurice Cowling, is overtly Powellite; that of the former, Mr George Gale, is not so at all explicitly. Nevertheless, the fact that Mr Gale has agreed to appear in a book dedicated to the proposition that Enoch Powell won the last election suggests at least that he is not unsympathetic to this remarkable statesman.

This is bound to raise the question of whether the SPECTATOR is about to become a Powellite organ. Knowing Messrs Gale and Cowling a little, and on the basis of their contributions to this volume, I do not think it would be correct to draw such a conclusion. A more accurate prophecy might be that under its new direction, the SPECTATOR will become, not pro-Powell, but anti-anti-Powell.

Such a development would be all to the good, since it is not necessary for a Tory to love Mr Powell before he can hate his critics; it is not necessary for him to believe that everything Mr Powell advocates is right before believing that everything alleged by his critics is wrong. The true test of Tory political sophistication today is not the atti- tude one takes up to Mr Powell; it is the attitude one takes to those who attack him. It is not he who needs to be built up but they who need to be knocked down. I am fully prepared to believe that support for many of Mr Powell's views is misplaced. But anything short of contempt for the views of those who condemn him is, in my view, a sign of poli- tical infantilism.

I am therefore delighted to be able to sup- pose that under its new direction the SPECTATOR will become, not a Powellite organ, but an organ committed to do battle with all the ideological lice that have been driven to the surface as a result of Mr Powell's stone-lifting efforts; not so much, that is, a champion of Mr Powell as a scourge of his critics.

Certainly Mr Gale's own contribution to this volume, which takes the form of a description of the election campaign, gives some grounds for my hopeful supposition. One example must suffice. At the stage in his account when the press was beginning to accuse Mr Heath of being 'soft' on Powell, because he had refused to write him out of the Tory party altogether, Mr Gale has this to say: 'The presumption of the press at this point—very much certain individual members of the English and American press —was very marked, if by presumption one means engaging in direct political and elec- toral dispute as opposed to the natural func- tion of a journalist at a press conference to inquire, clarify, elucidate ... The American nature and origin of this entire line of reasoning cannot be concealed. The inter- rogatory form, the presumption of guilt first In Mr Powell, and by association, in Heath, was American, as was the accent of the * Powell and the 1970 Election: Edited by John Wood (Panerfront 4s) principal prosecutor (Anthony Lewis, Lon- don Correspondent of the New York Times). It did not seem to have occurred to this journalist that if anyone was employing McCarthy techniques at this point, he was among their !lumber.'

Mr Gale, it will be appreciated, is not here defending Mr Powell. He is criticising the methods of his attackers. Since Mr Gale mentions Mr Lewis in this respect perhaps I may be excused mentioning a comparable experience of my own. Some months ago I was commissioned by the New York Times head office to write a profile of Mr Powell, having previously written a good deal on British politics for that paper. To my sur- prise the commission was, a few days later, suddenly withdrawn and when I demanded an explanation for this extraordinarily un- professional behaviour, the New York office told me that their chief of bureau in London, the same Mr Anthony Lewis, had taken ex- ception to my being asked to do the piece on the ground that I was a well-known racialist. Mr Lewis, it seems, had formed this conclusion on the basis of articles I had written which sought to explain, rather than condemn, Mr Powell's views on immigra- tion. As a result. I have not since appeared in their pages, it presumably being assumed that anybody who does not condemn Mr Powell is not fit to print.

Mr Gale also recounts a much worse ex- ample of this blind illiberalism affecting his own coverage of the election campaign for the Evening Standard. The incident arose out of his description of the public meeting when Enoch Powell was informed of An- thony Wedgwood Bean's ferocious refer- ence to him as having hoisted the flag of racialism which was beginning to look like the one that 'fluttered twenty-five years ago over Dachau and Belsen'. Mr Gale had used the following words. 'A moment of un- doubted dignity has occurred in this elec- tion. It may prove to be a moment of historical significance . . . Mr Powell rose and said, "For myself, in 1939 I voluntarily returned from Australia to this country, to serve as a private soldier against Germany and Nazism". There was an almost imper- ceptible pause. "I am the same man today." This was the moment of dignity.'

Any fair-minded reporter who was present at that scene would, I believe, agree that it certainly was a moment of dignity. Mr Gale's description was exactly right. But it was too much for his colleagues at the London office who went as a deputation to the Editor to protest against him for having printed it. 'This article,' Mr Gale adds, 'was the cause of ... a degree of hostility towards me from journalist friends and acquain- tances surprising in its intensity. I mention this since it corroborates the very general press dislike—and dislike is really too weak a word; distaste, even disgust, an almost pathological condition, would better des- cribe the attitude of some very influential journalists—of Enoch Powell'.

No wonder I am delighted that Mr Gale henceforth there will be one journal Ofiiidar—Naedonala -434 lectual opinion determined to do justice to Mr Powell, no more and no less. One would like to think that liberals everywhere will also welcome this development.

Mr Cowling's contribution to this book is of rather a different kind, and I hope he will agree that the most remarkable thing about it is that it should have been written at all. Mr Cowling is a distinguished his- torian and a Fellow of Peterhouse, Cam- bridge—that is to say, an intellectual of un- impeachable standing. That he should lend the undoubted authority of his academic re. putation to a brilliant and persuasive defence of Powellism, which concludes with a call that he should be re-admitted into the leader- ship of the Tory party, is, in its way, a polit- ical event, Mr Cowling is, as far as I know, the first high-ranking intellectual to take up the cudgels for Mr Powell in public, the first academic to give the man his proper due.

Could it be that the tide is turning and that at long last the phenomenon of Powell- ism is about to become a matter of sensible intellectual debate? If this one slim volume, obviously inspired by the right wing of the party, were all there was to rely on, then such a conclusion might seem far-fetched. But it so happens that there is another book which, in a sense, is far_ more significant, since it is written by a well-known left-wing publicist, Andrew Roth, who might be expected to be a fervent critic. But he turns out to be nothing of the kind. Instead of producing a hostile study, he has written one that is staggeringly sympathetic.t Mr Roth is rightly celebrated for the thoroughness of his research, and for an un- rivalled capacity to ferret out damaging de- tail. He is a fetishist for feet of clay. Yet there is not a single damaging paragraph in this full-scale study. Mr Powell's career is taken to pieces, closely examined, and put together again without any serious flaw emerging in the process. Readers of this volume will not find themselves converted to Powellism as a doctrine, but I defy any but the most purblindly prejudiced not to be impressed, as the author so manifestly is, by the record of the man himself.

Yet the reality remains that Mr Powell is still a political pariah. Of all Mr Heath's election pledges, only the one to exclude Mr Powell from the Government has so far been wholly honoured. I agree with Mr Cowling in questioning the wisdom of this course. It seems to me that Mr Powell's particular gifts are going to become more rather than less important as the new Government gets into its stride. Surely there can no longer be any doubt about what that gift is. It is the ability to present the Tory party as the cus- todian of the national identity, as the party of patriotism. Mr Heath, of course, does nc1 overlook this aspect of the Tory appeal. But for reasons of temperament and personality he is sadly unable to capitalise upon it. Mr Powell's whole career, however, as Andrew Roth makes clear, is one long preparation for this role, culminating in the stand on immigration which was inherent in all that. went before.

Why is this so important today? What has to be realised is that the patriotic theme, which appeals to the working class, and accounts for the Tory party's persistent hold over large sections of it, becomes particu- larly, indeed vitally, important at times when the Tory party's economic attitudes are likely to provoke working class hostility and sus- picion. Since the war the Tories have sedu-

lously avoided pursuing policies that might have this effect. It has scrupulously avoided annoying or frightening the trade unions; shown the greatest possible wariness about seeming to threaten the social services; leant

over backwards to avoid unemployment. It has not needed, therefore, to emphasise the patriotic theme, which traditionally attracts the workers, because it has avoided emphas- ising those economic aspects of its convic- tions which, traditionally repel them.

But this Government is about to change all that. It is about to 'take on' the trade

unions in what may be the bitterest industrial battle since 1926; it is about to cut the social services; it is about to risk rising unemploy- ment. On every point it is going to make itself vulnerable to the old charge of 'grind- ing the faces of the poor'. In other words, for the first time since the war the Tory party will need to be able to exploit every ounce of its traditional patriotic hold over working class votes, since their loyalty is going to be put to unprecedented strains. This surely is why Enoch Powell is going to

he so vitally impprtant. Of all the present major figures, he is the only one who can get the Tory cause across on non-economic grounds, on the grounds of its concern for the national identity, on the grounds of it being the bulwark for all that is familiar and much loved. In previous years this might have been unimportant. But today, when the Government is about to re-activate the class war, it is essential that the national side of Tory appeal should be given the fullest possible expression.

It may .be objected that Mr Powell has ruled himself out from playing such a role by his opposition to the Common Market, on which Mr Heath has set in his heart. But here again it is terribly important to be realistic. Can a Tory Prime Minister fight another round of the class war, while at the same time cutting the patriotic ground from under his feet? One can only wonder. What is cer- tain, however, is that if Mr Heath is really contemplating fighting class war, getting into Europe and continuing the policy of exclud- ing Mr Powell from office, he is going to find the going appallingly rough.