J. W. M. THOMPSON
There is a sense in which our politics, after stagnating for so many years, have begun to accelerate. The new movement may prove to be in an unwelcome direction, but that no one can yet tell. One sign that the wheels are moving faster is that bits are beginning to fly off: Enoch Powell, Desmond Donnelly, George Brown, Humphry Berkeley, all in a few weeks; and a Cabinet reshuffle. The public is far from being as apathetic as is sometimes said. All the rebels against (or casualties of) the system re- ceive a formidable weight of mail from people anxious to applaud or deplore their actions. Powell's will no doubt run into thou- sands, perhaps scores of thousands; Donnelly, since he announced his gallant if precarious campaign to 'break down existing out-of-date party barriers,' has also received a massive mail from all over the country (including invitations to speak to fifty different local Conservative associations).
One interesting political diversion next month will be Donnelly setting out to address meetings here, there and everywhere in pursuit of his ambition to extract something new from the party system. On the face of it his chances of making progress look remote: however, I salute him for having a go in his robustly indi- vidualist way. For the moment at any rate he seems to have his constituents with him. A Western Telegraph poll in Pembroke has just reported: Donnelly 40.2 per cent, Conservative 27.4, 'Transport House Labour' 13.4, Plaid Cymru 12.3, Liberal 4.1, Undecided 2.6.
Deeply depressing though it is, I find the affair of Enoch Powell has made me think again of that remarkable politician Aneurin Bevan; there are suggestive links between the public careers of the two men. Each in his time has revealed a deadly weakness for the coruscating phrase. The language of modern politics is so flatulent and so stale that it might seem strange to regard a habit of verbal brilliance as peri- lous: alas, there is safety in verbiage and there are times when too vivid an utterance is unfor- givable.
Bevan could be intoxicated by language; before an audience which was respond- ing emotionally to his words he would unloose, impulsively, the one glittering loaded phrase which would set the headlines screaming next day and plunge its author into a swamp of futile acrimony. Powell is a cooler customer and yet the same lure must tempt him. No doubt the poisoned language of his weekend speech was distilled at a quiet desk rather than in the heat of a public meeting. Nevertheless, it was surely the same passion for memorable words which led him on: the Tiber foaming with much blood, the nation heaping up its own funeral pyre, the match to the gunpowder. The resem- blances between the two Welshmen as politicians could be extended: both intellectuals (the one an autodidact, the other a man of formal educa- tion), both men of strong emotions, willing to use the demagogue's art, both ready to accept isolation for a cause with which they had identi- fied themselves. Nye Bevan, who called his opponents 'lower than vermin' in public, was gay and charming in private. Powell, who has made a speech which his own party leader stig-
matised as 'racialist,' is a man admired by his friends for his sensitivity, his integrity, his decency. It was the tragedy of Aneurin Bevan that his gifts were in the end frustrated by his temperament. That, too, may be the tragedy of Enoch Powell.
There are still shreds of public life a la Trollops clinging to our politics. Clubs, for example, retain a misty ritual significance. One of Enoch Powell's first acts after his dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet was to inform the 1900 Club of his courteous intention to stay away from a dinner. One of Humphry Berkeley's last acts be- fore resigning from the Tory party was to dine at the Carlton Club, where he has been a mem- ber for years and to whose political committee he had latterly belonged : he dined there de- liberately, and rather well, knowing that the next day his name would be erased from the list of members.
Down by the river
For all the extravagances of King's Road, Chelsea remains one of the most pleasant of London villages. It's disturbing to hear rumours of a plan to intrude a motorway along its river- bank, especially as there are hints that at long last the Thames is to be treated as the potentially priceless asset it is. The striking thing about Chelsea to me, revisiting it as one who used to live there, is how much of its own distinctive personality has survived all the razzmatazz of , recent years. It's what urban environments ought to be: lively, attractive, well-served, and interesting. The other evening I was invited to a delightful little exhibition at the Chelsea Arts Club on Whistler and Chelsea; and there, in etching and watercolour and oil, was much of the cheerful jumble of river and town that is still to be enjoyed today.
Whistler was a great Chelsea man, living there for thirty years and dying there in 1903, and helping to found, incidentally, the Arts Club. He inhabited a string of houses, the grandest, I suppose, being the one he had built in Tite Street. Two years after that extrava- gance he went bankrupt, and on his enforced departure left over the door the inscription, 'Unless the Lord build the house they labour in vain who build it. E. W. Godwin built this one.' The unfortunate Godwin's plans are illus- trated in the exhibition; it is noted that these were rejected by the Metropolitan Board of Works as being too 'simple,' so that extra orna- ment had to be added. Short-sighted planners, in other words, are no peculiarly modern plague.
The two decimal coins available this week look rather dreary. I liked the Consumers' Asso- ciation's reply to the Decimal Currency Board when asked to comment on several suggested fifty new penny pieces. The association, it ran, 'frankly does not like any of those you sent us and, feeling rather like Dr Johnson that "there is no settling the precedency between a louse and a flea," must refrain from committing itself to a preference for any one of them.'