Well, no he wasn’t.
It must be Rehabilitate Enoch Powell Month over at Telegraph blogs because I’ve now counted at least 5 blogs defending the “prophet” as one blogger called him. Of course, this month marks the centenary of Powell’s birth. It’s a time when racists and their free-market chums light a candle and say a prayer for the man whom they believe was ‘right’.
Today’s blog from (Fr)Ed West purports to tell “The real history of British racism”. Somehow, given West’s form, I doubt that but let’s have a look anyway.
There was that wonderful Mitchell and Webb sketch a few years ago in which they play German officers on the Eastern Front, who suddenly turn to each other and ask: are we the baddies?
It’s a question conservatives often ask of themselves, aware that in the popular media the baddies generally are conservative, and the prevailing orthodoxies are liberal.
Here he sets out his stall: “the Right are victims! We’re misunderstood”! So what’s caused this irritation for Eddie?
I was slightly stung by one response to last Saturday’s blog, by Dorian Lynskey in the New Statesman.
Oh? Tell me more.
The gist of his piece was that Powell’s speech led to widespread misery and violence against minorities, and so “rehabilitating” him is wrong, even in effect justifying racist incitement or violence. To many people, Powell is blamed for the rise of the National Front and for a generally poisonous atmosphere of racism, epitomised by Eric Clapton’s drunken rant about “wogs” at a gig in Birmingham in 1976.
You can just see the tears streaming down his lickle face. Diddums. Grab yourself a tissue Eddie and stop sobbing. Let’s have a look at the article to which he refers. Here’s a snippet,
There’s an ongoing effort on the right to rehabilitate Powell. In a mealy-mouthed piece in the Telegraph on Saturday, Ed West did the “very clever man” routine (Powell picked Wagner, Beethoven and Haydn on Desert Island Discs, don’t you know?), threw in some flattering anecdotes and skipped daintily past the rivers of blood to focus on one area where Powell might feel vindicated: his Euroscepticism. Let’s remind ourselves of what West left out.
And so West’s blog goes on to
discuss apologise for those things that I pointed out in this blog. What West appears to want is the right to apply lots of lipgloss and mascara to a pig and substitute it for a human.
Let’s have some more West,
Taking aside whether Powell was “racist” or not, since I don’t think we’re going to agree on a definition of that, let me address the issue of whether he was responsible for inciting racism and violence.
My bold. This is something that right-wingers like West often use in response to questions about racism. “Well, what about anti-white racism”? They’ll ask as if to suggest that there is a form of institutionalized racism against white people. West’s argument, such as it is, is one of denial. The history of racism does not begin with Powell. It began with chattel slavery and was rationalized by the pseudo-science of Social Darwinism. The economic doctrine of classical liberalism that Powell supported and West continues to support, fully embraced the notion of racial superiority. After all, the Empire confirmed this notion in the minds of 19th century politician, so it was divinely ordained. Right?
Like pretty much all my conservative friends, I feel repulsed when I hear casual racism in conversation. So I can see why someone who seemingly raised this to a national level should be so hated.
Oh, do you really? Gosh, you’re such a bleeding heart liberal, Westie. But if you think that’s bad, have a look at this,
…the racial violence that followed the April 20 speech has been exaggerated in the public consciousness for political reasons. I may be wrong about that, and I don’t doubt that there were incidents of hatred, nor that many people felt scared, but I cannot find any figures to justify the popular idea that there was some sort of pogrom.
What? Put down the crack pipe, Freddie, you’ve clearly lost the plot. But he persists.
Bear in mind that there was far less violence, either inter-racially or intra-racially, in the period following Powell’s speech than in Britain today. The actual, factually recorded rise in inter-racial violence in England began in the early 1970s with the phenomenon of mugging, but this has been largely suppressed in the national consciousness, despite its role in sparking the iconic anti-racist victory at the Battle of Lewisham. People in inner-cities were far more likely to be drawn into political extremism by the experience of street violence against them or friends than by something a politician said in a speech in Birmingham.
West offers no figures, just a lot of hearsay about there being “more inter-racial violence today”. He won’t say it, because he lacks the courage to do so, but the subtext here is “Enoch was right”. He adds,
Certainly the National Front had a spike in followers after Heath sacked Powell, being before only the preserve of “cranks and perverts”, in the words of one of their leaders. But electorally the NF were nothing, and even at their peak they barely polled more than 10 per cent in their strongest councils wards. This is ignored in the popular imagination, where NF marches were as ubiquitous as gay pride marches are to paranoid old conservatives. (And the dress code was pretty similar, now I think about it.)
This is disingenuous stuff. The “NF”, he tells us, were “nothing” in electoral terms. The fact that they were “nothing” electorally speaking is pretty meaningless when one considers their penchant for violence. Indeed the rise in the NF’s fortunes is directly attributable to Powell’s hate speech. No question about it. It wasn’t just the NF that profited, others did too. Members of the NF could even be found drinking in Conservative clubs around the country. Some were members of the Monday Club. West’s analysis is sloppy but it is sloppy because he is pathologically mendacious.
But did Powell’s speech cause this? No people in history have felt comfortable about large numbers of foreigners moving into the neighbourhoods, whatever their skin colour.
And there you have it: it’s all the fault of “the coloureds”. This is one confused puppy. Here he begins his excuses.
That’s human nature – it would be the same in Pakistan if loads of Brits started moving there. British people actually responded with a fair amount of tolerance, considering the changes they were experiencing. In France in the early 1970s there were a dozen racist murders of Arabs in just one year in Marseilles. Throughout recent English history, popular expressions of nastiness towards minorities has never been tolerated, despite most people opposing mass immigration; the vast majority of people were horrified by the violence of Teddy Boys in Notting Hill in 1958. When Eric Clapton said that “Enoch was right” in 1976 most people thought he was an idiot, including, once he got clean, Clapton himself.
The thing is, Freddie, Clapton has never retracted those words. He continues to believe that “Enoch was right” to this very day. He repeated his admiration of Powell on The South Bank Show in April 2007. In fact, The Guardian reported that,
In 2004, he told Uncut mag that Powell was “outrageously brave”, rather than dismiss his past comments as drunk ravings.
So no, Clapton did not think of himself as an “idiot” for saying those things. But again, West offers another excuse.
If there was violence following the speech, and if racists and extremists were inspired to hatred, then Powell certainly bears the blame. Much of Powell’s speech was inflammatory, which is morally indefensible but also self-defeating, since it alienates moderate followers. Why did he make it? He was a loner and an academic, and perhaps low in what today would be called emotional intelligence. Using such language in the 1880s, when the people who mattered were acquainted with classical literature, might have been sensible, but less so with a mass audience in the 1960s, who had in recent memory endured the horrors of a war inspired by a doctrine of racial supremacy.
The problem with West is that he’s an intellectual coward. He admires Powell but doesn’t have the guts to admit it or to even produce a convincing argument in defence of him.
The arguments are there, and it can be made without recourse to hatred or inflammatory language, and without talk of foaming rivers. In fact it’s less likely to provoke hostility from minorities, who either want to integrate and have British grandchildren and great-grandchildren, or keep separate, than from white liberals, for whom diversity has become a central part of their moral fabric and a successor religion to Christianity.
What is it with this phrase “white liberals”? Notice how he suggests “diversity” is a religious substitute for Christianity. It’s an appalling analogy to be sure. But what more did you expect of (Fr)Ed West? A coherent argument?