Enoch Powell the last great pro-integration Unionist thinker…

Fascinating assay of Enoch Powell’s thinking on the strategic elements of the struggle for Union against armed nationalism, by Alex Kane, who ‘back in the day’ worked for him as constituency organiser in Loughbrickland. One of his key ideas (integrationism) was aimed at disincentivising the ‘armed struggle’ of the IRA and others:

He regarded terrorism as a form of warfare that could not be prevented by laws and punishments but by the aggressor’s certainty that the war was impossible to win: “Every word or act which holds out the prospect that our unity with the rest of the United Kingdom might be negotiable is itself, consciously or unconsciously, a contributory cause to the continuation of violence in Northern Ireland.”

And he continues:

Powell’s argument had enormous influence upon the UUP leader James Molyneaux in particular, as well as a significant section of the party. Indeed, it led to a fairly constant tussle between the integrationist and devolutionist wings of the party, with many (and not just in the UUP) believing that he was a malign influence on unionism because of his anti-devolutionary stance.

Put bluntly, they weren’t willing to put their trust in Westminster alone: which was, ironically, an opinion mirrored by nationalists too. Some critics also believe that it was Powell’s influence which led to the “inertia of the Molyneaux era”.

When he was persuaded to stand for the UUP (having deserted the Conservatives in early 1974) he was at the height of his popularity across Great Britain and key figures in the leadership of the party believed that the scale of that popularity would be of benefit.

But for all of the fact that millions supported him on immigration and the EEC (as it was still known) they didn’t share his interest in Northern Ireland.

The same was true of the Conservative Party. His influence within it shrank when he encouraged voters to back Labour in the February 1974 election and many who would have agreed with him on major issues never fully trusted him again: which partly explains why there was such a limited rebellion over the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty