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.


  • dwatch

    I found his strong brummie accent hard to listen to. I also doubt if this ex Tory MP would have joined the UUP had he not become unpopular in the Tory party over his “Rivers of blood” speech, which if I remember correctly he was dismissed from the shadow cabinet by Edward Heath in 1968.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Whatever his personal views were on terrorism v democracy, Powell, in his election campaigns in N.I., displayed the characteristics of bigot, treating his SDLP ‘opponent’ as a pariah – never once did he publically mentioned Eddie McGrady’s name, and never once spoke to him. When it suited Powell’s electoral purposes he played the Orange card, donned a bowler hat and marched behind Orange bands.

    When McGrady finally defeated Powell in the 1987 Westminster election, the SDLP workers and supporters formed a guard of honour outside the count centre, to applaud as Powell made his final exit from politics. He misunderstood the irony in SDLP gesture and later referred to it in his autobiography as a personal tribute to himself – ‘And even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer.’

  • lamhdearg2

    “which partly explains why there was such a limited rebellion over the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.”
    This is not a link I had considered before, anyone like to differ, or elaborate.

  • Angry Planner

    Powell was a highly complex character who was good at energising people of a similar outlook but drove away those who didn’t, probably the closest equivalent today is Ron Paul. His biggest failing was his inability to compromise and that was what led him to make Rivers of Blood, had he chosen to finesse the point he wanted to make about mass immigration then it wouldn’t have had the same effect but the language he used was ill judged and incendiary meaning Heath had no option but to sack him.

    He remains a fascinating figure, he introduced contraception, helped to introduce no fault divorce, supported abortion and the legalisation of homosexuality, favoured unilateral disarmament and regarded the death penalty as “morally repugnant,” I think Political Compass shows him as being to the left of Tony Blair! He was also the MP who in 1959 denounced the Macmillan Government over the brutal murder of Mau Mau prisoners in the Hola Detention Camp, giving in the process what Denis Healey called the greatest speech he ever heard in Parliament.

    One thing I will say for him and others of his generation like Tony Benn was that they were politicians of principle and you knew what they stood for even if you didn’t agree with them. What a contrast to today’s bunch of pole-climbers! ;(

  • alan56

    One thing I will say for him and others of his generation like Tony Benn was that they were politicians of principle and you knew what they stood for even if you didn’t agree with them. What a contrast to today’s bunch of pole-climbers! ;(

    Dead right AP

  • wild turkey

    AP and Alan56

    “William Hazlitt wrote, ‘a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man.’ Not all radicals have been so generous. ”
    Christopher Hitchens

    deviating a bit from the local focus of this thread, both you guys have hit upon something obvious. a long long timeago, some MPs, and even the occassional
    US congressperson, made an effort to represeent their constituents and practice their integrity.

    now we have a representative gov’t not ‘ of by and for the people’ but representatives of banks, business and , to a small extent, unions. in a system where vaguely divergent wings of the same party;the banks party (nod to Gore Vidal) compete for votes in x-factor elections, the like of Powell, Benn et al are a complete and total anachronism.

    Enoch the man? never much attracted to the mans politics, here or GB.
    fascintated by the old testament connotations of the name….
    and really i know little save for what i read a long long time ago in simon(?) heffers biography.

    finally, in advance, apologies if the above comment is a bit off thread and has not pleased the thought police

  • Framer

    It was Eddie McGrady, that great moderate and EU enthusiast, who announced on winning his South Down seat from Powell in 1987 that he had brought the border to the edge of Belfast.

    It was Enoch Powell, that great integrationist, who took time out to back the arch-devolutionist and ex-UUP renegade James Kilfedder against the Campaign for Equal Citizenship’s Robert McCartney in North Down in the same 1987 general election thus ensuring Kilfedder’s survival.

  • lover not a fighter

    Today Enoch Powell is just a foot note in history except perhaps to political anoraks.

    People and circumstances move on. Few people if any make as much difference/impact as they would like.

  • Barnshee

    He had two problems
    1 His eccentric manner]
    2 He was right in defining problems with immigration and economic policies (those responsible for these hated that)

  • He was a full professor, of Ancient Greek, at the age of 25 so he obviously was highly intelligent. Is eccentricity a common feature of brilliance?