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Enoch Powell’s Britain: What If?

Enoch Powell

Enoch Powell is often described as the greatest Prime Minister we never had. That is to say or imply, undoubtedly, that had he been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom he would have surpassed even Winston Churchill in the minds of those debating the greatest Briton of the 20th century. Yet outside the realms of the obvious, many still find it difficult to define ‘Powellism’, and therefore what a Britain led by Mr Powell would have looked like. Some on the right wrongly claim that he represented a more conservative strand of Thatcherism, whilst his detractors on the left claim – also wrongly – that Powell’s brand of politics was more akin to the fascists and Oswald Mosley.

Both views are, clearly, mistaken. It is true that some of Thatcher’s economic policies were inspired by the rhetoric of Enoch Powell vis-a-vis de-nationalisation, and Powell’s view of the empire and romantic nationalism could be compared with similar sentiments uttered by Mosley. But Enoch Powell was a man with a philosophy in his own right, whose domestic and worldview cannot be realistically categorised by any other British politician of the 20th century. Just what Powell’s Britain would have looked like will sadly remain a matter of conjecture, but based on the consistency of his rhetoric and action in parliament, it’s possible to easily and briefly summarise a hypothesis in an attempt to answer the question.


It’s perhaps easier to begin with what is, for most students of British politics, common knowledge; Powell’s views on sovereignty, identity, nationhood and race. He was certainly the most nationalistic political figure of the 20th century, opposed to any supranational organisation to which even an ounce of sovereignty was conceded. Powell was a strident opponent of the European Union, or the European Economic Community as it was back when he was arguing against it in the Commons. Even after the matter was settled by Wilson’s referendum in 1975, by a 2:1 margin in favour of remaining in the community, Powell continued to make the case that it was bad for Britain – and undoubtedly he has been vindicated on this score. A Powell government would have arbitrarily, and without delay, withdrawn Britain from the community.

Powell was similarly opposed to the United Nations for much the same reason. He once referred to it as “an absurdity and monstrosity”, claiming that the institution was presiding over the managed decline of the nation state. Interestingly, Powell derided the UN for its role in mediating disputes without force. Without war – or the possibility of war – he said, “the sovereign nation is not conceivable”. It’s to underestimate the astute nature of his political strategic mind to suggest that Powell would have unilaterally withdrawn Britain from the UN, but in all likelihood he would have used our nation’s prominent position within to undermine it and persuade the other great powers that their futures lay outside of the organisation.

This nationalism was also prevalent in Powell’s domestic arguments. His opposition to immigration, especially of coloured individuals from the former colonies, is well documented, and certainly his most popular political position. He argued that an immigrant did not “by being born in England, become an Englishman. He is a West Indian or an Asian still. He will by the very nature of things have lost one country without gaining another”. He also took up the mantel of his grassroots supporters who largely opposed coloured immigration, with his famous ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech (Birmingham, 1968) basing his argument on the concerns of his constituents on this issue. He was largely derided for this position, but after countless Islamic terror attacks and with black knife crime currently spiralling in the heart of London, perhaps many of his detractors are now quietly rethinking their initial appraisal.

Powell argued that parliamentary democracy itself, the very crux of the British nation, would disintegrate as a result of multiculturalism and the creation of a multi-ethnic society. “Parliamentary democracy disintegrates when the national homogeneity of the electorate is broken down by a large and sharp alteration in the composition of the population”, he said, and as a student of classical antiquity it’s hard to argue with his reasoning. It’s quite possible that he had the words of Aristotle at the forefront of his mind, who said that “a multi-ethnic society is thus necessarily undemocratic and chaotic, for it lacks philia, this profound, flesh-and-blood fraternity of citizens”, and that “despots have always reigned over highly fragmented societies”.

On this basis, in order to prevent civil unrest, Powell proposed cutting all future immigration to “negligible levels”, and initiating a system of voluntary repatriation of immigrants and their descendants who have mistakenly called Britain home. However, he was not convinced that it would be so simple. In an interview on the matter in the 1970’s, he did advocate coerced repatriation as a means of expediting the process, using punitive taxation or something such like. So it is fair to say that Powell’s Britain would not have been the multi-ethnic, racially antagonistic society that it is today. His policies would have prevented years of terrorism, Pakistani rape gangs, knife crime and more. It really is the greatest shame that his ideas were never given a chance in this regard.

Northern Ireland, Devolution and The Commonwealth

Whilst Powell’s views on Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh devolution, and the role of The Commonwealth are associated with the principles of nationalism and nationhood, their prominence as issues in and of themselves in modern British politics determines that they merit a separate, but related, discussion. In short, Powell was opposed to any measures intended to create any distinct governance in the United Kingdom’s constituent nations separate from Westminster. He believed that we are one nation, and as such we should have one parliament, one Prime Minister and one legal code.

Northern Ireland, he believed, should not be a nation in itself as it has become today, with its own (manufactured) identity and customs. Powell argued that Northern Ireland should be integrated fully into the United Kingdom, with the same political and legal status as Worcestershire, East Anglia or Greater Manchester. He believed that the special status as a constituent nation that Northern Ireland enjoys was a concession to a foreign government (the Irish), and that it should not remain so. Ironically, this position was not popular with Ian Paisley, the most popular unionist leader in Northern Ireland, who saw devolution and the creation of a Northern Irish parliament as a means to gaining personal power and influence.

It’s worth noting that Unionism and the Northern Ireland question were issues that Powell dedicated a lot of his political thought to. So much so, in fact, that in 1974 he resigned his seat as Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West and sat as the MP for South Down representing the Ulster Unionist Party until his retirement from parliamentary life in 1987.

It’s interesting also that this marks a clear divergence with Thatcherism. Margaret Thatcher, however nationalistic she may have been, thought the economics of the situation took precedence over all else and was willing to concede elements of the Northern Ireland question to the Irish nationalists. Whilst both took the same approach to the IRA and agreed a hard line response was required, it was Thatcher’s government which paved the way for the eventual power-sharing agreement that Blair’s Labour government reached in 1998. Giving an inch to Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA, was totally out of the question for Enoch Powell. He saw the IRA not as terrorists or freedom fighters, but as foreign agents attempting to wage war against the British nation state, and as such he supported deploying the military on the streets of Ulster to deal with them.

In terms of devolution in the rest of the United Kingdom, Enoch Powell was opposed to this too. He did not believe in the same electorate being represented by two separate political bodies essentially doing the same jobs. He opposed a Scottish or Welsh parliament, as the United Kingdom is a unitary nation state as opposed to a federalised one, and as such, devolved parliaments would undermine its unitary nature. Powell argued that, if Scotland and Wales saw themselves as separate nation states, then they should be independent nation states outside of the United Kingdom. In practice, this should have put an end to calls for independence and devolution. The Scottish National Party only came to prominence after the devolution settlement, thus Powell’s way would have deprived them of the oxygen required to fill their constituents’ minds with poisonous anti-British sentiment.

So one can reasonably assume that a Powell-led government would have halted the gradual process of concession to separatist interests, and instead strengthened the unity of the United Kingdom. This could have led to a number of developments that did not come to pass, as it happens, such as the abolition of individual sports teams for constituent nations, instead directing all representation as simply British. Of course, this is but conjecture. All we can say with certainty is that devolution and the appeasement of separatists would have been firmly halted and reversed.

Enoch Powell, surprisingly for such an enthusiastic imperialist in his youth, was entirely opposed to the Empire’s successor organisation The Commonwealth of Nations. As Powell saw it, the process of decolonisation released Britain from any moral obligation toward her former imperial possessions, and nor was it in Britain’s national interest to remain tied to such an organisation. A Powell government would have potentially gone as far as unilateral withdrawal from the Commonwealth, perhaps in preference of bilateral trading arrangements with its most lucrative constituent nations, such as India and Australia. In any case, he saw no merit in the institution and, had he become Prime Minister, it would in all likelihood not exist today.

Geopolitics: America, NATO and the USSR

Powell’s views on Britain’s place in the world, her ‘special relationship’ with the United States and her crusade against world socialism and the USSR may come as a surprise to most traditional Tories. Indeed, its his views on these issues that really sets the worldviews of Powellism and Thatcherism apart. Margaret Thatcher had a deep affection for the United States of America, derived in part from what she saw as their model of maximum individual freedom, and also their natural aversion to socialism which made them the natural allies in the crusade against the Communist nations. However, this was not a view shared by Mr Powell.

Enoch Powell, in actual fact, strongly disliked and distrusted America and the American “deep-state” in particular. Not without foundation, he saw that successive post-war American administrations wished to see a United Ireland, and were actively supporting attempts made by the Irish government to wrest control of Ulster away from Westminster. The Kennedy’s in particular had a hand in this. Powell also blamed the United States for Britain’s loss of Empire, and saw elements of the American government supporting separatist factions that resulted in the de-colonisation process in Africa – in no small part to appease their black electorate at home.

With this in mind, it’s fair to assume that Powell’s Britain wouldn’t have adopted the fawning and blind support towards the US that Thatcher’s government oversaw. But this of course begs the question, in the world of superpower alliances, where would Britain’s loyalties lie?

Remarkably, when pondering this question himself, Enoch Powell looked east, not to France or West Germany, but to the Soviet Union. Powell saw the USSR as Britain’s natural ally to realise the age-old mission of British statesmen to temper the balance of power in Europe. This is remarkable given the time in which Powell was contemplating this. It was the height of the Cold War, when western politicians were expected to continue a policy of diplomatic and economic stonewalling toward the USSR as a matter of course. Even Harold Wilson, Britain’s leftist Prime Minister of the 60’s and 70’s, himself accused of being a Soviet infiltrator by the CIA, continued to march to the American drum on this issue. Yet a Powell government may have approached things differently. It’s even fair to say that such a volte-face could have prevented the collapse of the Soviet Union and stunted America’s rise to her current status as the world’s unrivalled hyper-power.

Given his views on Britain’s place between the two superpowers of the 20th century, it’s fair to say that a Powell Britain may not have been such an enthusiastic member of NATO. After all, NATO was essentially an alliance of mutual security against Russia, who, in Enoch Powell’s assessment, posed absolutely no threat to Great Britain. Why, then, would membership of such an organisation, the kind of which Powell had been so critical vis-a-vis the United Nations, be of any benefit to a Britain allied with NATO’s ultimate enemy? Whether or not he advocated leaving NATO or dismantling it is a matter for conjecture, but his preference for an Anglo-Russian alliance leads one to infer that leaving NATO would have been a geopolitical priority of his.

In the wider context of British foreign policy and Britain’s place in the world, Enoch Powell advocated a policy of splendid isolationism, much more akin to the 19th century Prime Minister Lord Salisbury than Thatcher’s almost neo-conservative attitude towards foreign policy. Thatcher, like Reagan, advocated intervention abroad to spread the gospel of freedom that they so dearly cherished, without realising that Western ideas of freedom and democracy are totally alien to certain other cultures. Powell on the other hand recognised this, and was a staunch opponent of neo-imperialism, or ‘bombing foreigners into accepting freedom’, as we may refer to it today.

Society & Economy

Surprisingly to many of his hard right followers, Enoch Powell’s views on social issues were not at all traditionalist, or even very conservative relative to his Tory contemporaries of the time. For instance, he was one of a small number of Tories who voted in favour of legalising homosexuality in 1967, a motion put forward by Harold Wilson’s Labour government.  In his own words, he did not regard “it as a proper area for the criminal law to operate”. He also voted in favour of relaxing divorce legislation to permit no-fault divorce, again being one of just a few Conservatives to support this measure.

Powell also strongly opposed the death penalty, describing it as “utterly repugnant”, although he believed the final say on this issue should be delegated to public debate. Based on his rhetoric on this subject, as well as the aforementioned sexual and divorce legislation, we can infer that Powell’s Britain would not have taken a different course to that which it did without him. There is of course the question of Section 28 of the Local Governments Act (1988), introduced by Thatcher’s government, criminalising the promotion of homosexuality and perversion by local councils. This was just a year after Powell left parliament, but despite his opinion that the law should stay out of the bedroom, one could imagine him voting for this because he was a generally decent man who would have opposed perversion and sexual dysfunction being taught to children by government.

On economic affairs, Powell was largely libertarian. It’s often said that Margaret Thatcher based a great deal of her policy in government on Powell’s economic philosophy, including his support for an anti-interventionist approach to the economy on the part of government, lower direct taxation and de-nationalisation of industry. Where they diverge, however, is on the issues of the Welfare State and Trade Unions. Enoch Powell saw both as valuable institutions within society, and did not agree with the Thatcherite principle of dismantling the former and vigorously attacking the latter. Thus we can assume that a Powell economy would have been similarly laissez-faire, but with a clear dividing line between the public and private sectors and where the former had a valuable part to play in a functioning society.

‘There is no such thing as society’, Mrs Thatcher once said. She was, of course, referring to her belief in American-style individualism, which supposes that people are solely motivated by self-interest, and that this is something to be celebrated and encouraged. Powell’s opinion on this statement is unclear. On the one hand, he was fairly supportive of the National Health Service, the welfare state and trade unions, which are inherently cooperative. On the other hand, he was a libertarian who held the concept of individual freedom relatively close. Perhaps his more tempered individualism and moderate take on Thatcherite economics may have halted some of the cultural degeneration that Thatcher’s policies unquestionably caused?

The most definite statement of this hypothesis is this; Enoch Powell was the greatest Prime Minister Britain never had. Had we had Mr Powell as Prime Minister in the 1970’s, things might be entirely different today. For a start, native British people wouldn’t be facing a demographic crisis that will see their destruction as a race within half a century, nor would we have ridiculous notions of “positive discrimination” or minority quotas that are solely designed to humiliate the native population. Perhaps the Soviet Union would also, with Britain’s support, still exist as an entity? Perhaps there would not be this animosity between the working union men and the establishment that was, undoubtedly, brought about by Thatcher’s policies?

In reality, these theories are anybody’s guess. There are a lot of variables that come into play, and the power of the media-banking establishment would have been wielded with full force against a government led by such a popular minister like Mr Powell. Yet it is hard to escape the feeling that, whatever else may or may not have happened, our biggest political regret is that we never had a man of Enoch Powell’s class and calibre to lead our once-great nation.


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