Enoch Powell Memorial Speech delivered on St George's Day, 1999

- Friday, 23rd April 1999

 

May I congratulate you on holding this Dinner in Memory of Enoch Powell.

A year has passed since his death.

And the world has shrunk.

We are here because, in Wordsworth‘s words, we know a

Great man has been among us; the hand that penned

And tongue that uttered wisdom - better none

than he.

You have set me a thrice humbling task: inviting me to deliver an address in memory of our greatest Parliamentary philosopher since Edmund Burke; in the presence of his wife; and on St George‘s Day.

It is obviously daunting for a mere disciple to attempt to do justice to a master of political oratory.

I have admired Enoch Powell since my teens as much for his moral courage, and his vivid manner of expression, as for his ideas themselves.

But I have never attempted to emulate him.

Nor could I hope to add much to our knowledge of Enoch the man in the presence of Pam Powell, who shared the vicissitudes of his career for more than 40 years, and his daughter and son-in-law.

I nonetheless have a string of vivid recollections of his sardonic wit, merciless logic and rejection of comfortable nonsense.

I recall his response to an ingratiating young man who, referring to the recent demise of the gold/dollar exchange standard, said Mr Powell must be feeling gratified that the world had been converted to his approach to floating exchange rates: "to say that the world has been converted is a bit like saying of a man who is pushed fully clothed into a swimming pool??that he dived."

I remember the time when an interviewer, trying to be helpful, suggested that Mr Powell had been quoted out of context, to which Enoch replied "all quotations are out of context by definition".

And towards the end of his life when I had the pleasure of entertaining him at my French house and asked him to apply his formidable knowledge of heraldry to the escutcheons in the chapel and on the outbuildings.

Observing them for a few moments he said, "I see a previous owner of your house awarded himself a dukedom."

My hopes that my house might have a splendid past were raised and dashed in a single sentence.

I am always tempted, as most of us are when recounting Powelliana, to slip into that insistent, slightly nasal, easily-imitatable voice.

Then I recall how, allegedly, at dinner with a group of friends, they held a competition as to who could mimic Enoch best - and Enoch came third.

This is my second memorial address in a week.

On Tuesday, I gave a Memorial Lecture in memory of another great Tory, RAB Butler.

We can draw a valuable lesson from the fact that one thing two such different Conservatives as Powell and Butler agreed on was maintaining universal access to free healthcare and schooling paid for out of taxes.

In the debate following my speech earlier this week, almost every Conservative has likewise accepted that we should continue to provide universal access to free health and schooling.

"I spelt out that there are sound Conservative reasons why we believe in the NHS and state funded schooling.

It is not just an electoral necessity.

It is because Conservatives believe that the healthy have an obligation to care for the sick and each generation has a duty to educate the next.

Such obligations cannot be fulfilled by the free market and need support from the taxpayer.

I think Enoch saw those obligations rooted deeper still in his belief in the nation. He believed people are not autonomous individuals.

Each of us is part of a nation.

He defined the nation as consisting of people who identify with each other. That identity naturally has a political dimension - the State.

But it also has an ethical dimension - responsibility towards each other and across the generations.

Nations are communities of obligation, in the sense that their members recognise duties to meet the basic needs and protect the basic interests of other members. Yet they are also large and impersonal communities, so in order for these duties to be effectively discharged, they must be assigned and reinforced.

He felt that ‘the nation has willed‘ that its duty to the sick be shouldered by the NHS and to educate the young by the education system.

He did not accept, and nor should we, that those structures should remain immutable.

But he recognised that the scope for applying the free market was limited.

So he turned to other Conservative principles for guidance - particularly encouraging local decision making, professional independence and the involvement of the voluntary sector.

We will do likewise. Conservatism is about much more than the free market which has a limited role in the public services - as Enoch, the forerunner of Thatcherism, recognised 30 years ago.

However, my greatest challenge tonight is to speak on St George‘s Day.

It was on this day in 1964, in his address to the St George‘s Society, that Enoch gave what I find the most beautiful prose poem reflecting on this country this century.

It should be read with profit and pleasure every year by those who gather on our nation‘s saint‘s day.

It is far from being just an evocation of Englishness like Baldwin‘s famous elegy on "the sounds of England, the tinkle of the hammer on the anvil in the country smithy, the corncrakes on a dewy morning, the sound of the scythe on the whetstone??.", or Orwell‘s picture of old maids cycling to communion.

Enoch rises above that as he asks and answers a question of our ancestors:-

"Tell us what it is that binds us together: show us the clue that leads through a thousand years; whisper to us the secret of this charmed life of England, that we in our time may know how to hold it fast."

"What would they say? They would speak to us in our own English tongue. The tongue made for telling truth in, tuned already to songs that haunt the ear like the sadness of spring."

"They would tell us, too, of a palace........to which men resorted out of all England to speak on behalf of their fellows, a thing called Parliament."

"Above all they assuredly would not forget??.the kingship of England??.the unity of England effortless and unconstrained which accepts the unlimited supremacy of crown and Parliament so naturally as not to be aware of it; the homogeneity of England so profound and embracing that the counties and regions make it a hobby to discover their differences and assert their peculiarities; the continuity of England which has brought unity and this homogeneity about by the slow alchemy of centuries.

"For the unbroken life of the English nation over a thousand years and more is a phenomenon unique in history."

Patriotism versus Nationalism

On such a day and such an occasion as this I am compelled to address the subject of patriotism.

It is urgent that Conservatives get their minds clear about what we mean by the nation, nationalism and patriotism.

During our last period in opposition, we sorted out our thinking on the economy and the merits of economic freedom.

As a result we were equipped to handle the huge economic challenges which faced us in the 1980s.

In many ways as a party and as a country we are even more in need of intellectual clarity now on the subject of national freedom than we were then on the issue of economic freedom.

We need to clarify our minds now to be ready to face up to the immense challenges of the future, many of which will be about nationhood, as a result of the evolution of the European Union, the consequences of devolution and Labour‘s reckless constitutional upheaval, not to mention eruptions in the Balkans and the emergence of new nations in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet empire.

We need a proper understanding of nationhood - its relationship with statehood, cultural identity, democracy and even social policy.

Maybe we will understand a little better if we consider what patriotism is not.

First, patriotism is not aggressive.

It is not the same as the phenomenon we have come to call nationalism.

Patriotism is about a people‘s pride in their own identity and a desire to govern themselves.

We have come to see the word nationalism, by contrast, to refer to the desire of one people to govern others.

The two phenomena could not be more different.

A patriotic pride in one‘s own national identity does not require any sense of superiority, only of uniqueness.

And a people‘s desire to govern themselves ought to lead naturally to empathy for other peoples who have similar ambitions.

Within a country we normally take it for granted that individuals who want to be free to run their own lives will want others to share that freedom rather than supposing that they must harbour a desire to dominate the lives of other people.

Of course, it is easy to see how national self-government and the desire to rule others got confused with each other in the fluid world of twentieth century Eastern Europe.

With shifting boundaries, collapsing dynastic empires and intermingled populations it must often have seemed a question of rule or be ruled.

But by no stretch of the imagination can the British desire for self-government be thought to be a threat to our neighbours.

As an island we have natural boundaries.

And for centuries our conflicts with our continental neighbours have been fought, rightly or wrongly, with the explicit aim of preventing any of them from conquering or being in a position to conquer us.

Even our empires have been acquired, it has been said, in a fit of absence of mind.

And as each of our successive empires was found to be incompatible with our own belief in and practice of parliamentary self-government we have preferred to lose the former rather than the latter.

Second, patriotism is not about race.

At least it certainly is not for the English.

We chose our kings from Normandy, Wales, Scotland, Holland and Hanover.

Even our patron saint whose day we are celebrating, was a foreigner from North Africa or the Middle East.

Though G K Chesterton tried to naturalise him when he wrote:-

St George he was for England

And before he killed the dragon

He drank a pint of English ale

Out of an English flagon.

As I was elected for the seat named after our first English saint - St Alban - I have always championed his claims though some think even he had Roman citizenship!

Third, patriotism is not just about culture.

If Britain had succumbed to Hitler or Napoleon or the Bourbons or the Popes or were in future to become a province in a continental super state we would by any meangingful definition have lost our nationhood.

But it is perfectly conceivable that we would still have developed or retained some of our cultural idiosyncrasies like drinking warm beer or boiling vegetables to destruction or ladies cycling to early communion or playing cricket on the village green.

Nationhood is specifically about political power.

And for the British, more than any other people, the exercise of political power through our own institutions, the Crown in Parliament, the common law is a central part of our culture and sense of identity.

To suggest that the British could retain their national identity if they lost the power to govern themselves through their own institutions is a contradiction in terms.

"We must be free or die who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake."

That is why the prospect of a single currency is such a threat.

It is not principally an economic project.

It is a political project intended to lead from single currency to single Government to single State.

And it probably will.

Because there has never been an official currency in the history of the world which has not had a Government to run it, a Government equipped with powers to tax, to spend, to borrow and to regulate the financial system, alongside a central bank.

 

 

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