He was a Conservative Party Member of Parliament (MP) between 1950 and February 1974, and an Ulster Unionist MP between October 1974 and 1987. He was controversial through most of his career, and his tenure in senior office was brief. He held strong and distinctive views on matters such as immigration, national identity, monetary policy, and the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community, which later became the European Union. He is remembered for his controversial 1968 "Rivers of Blood" speech in opposition to mass Commonwealth immigration to Britain; this resulted in him being quickly sacked from the Shadow Cabinet.
Powell was a pupil at King Edward's School, Birmingham, where he studied classics, specifically Latin and Greek (which would later influence his 'Rivers of Blood' speech), and was one of the few pupils in the school's history to attain 100% in an end-of-year English examination. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1930 to 1933. During his time at Cambridge he fell under the influence both of the poet A. E. Housman, then Professor of Latin at the university, and of the writings of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He took no part in politics at university.
It was while at Cambridge that Powell is recorded as having enjoyed one of his first close relationships. Indeed, according to John Evans, Chaplain of Trinity and Extra Preacher to the Queen, instructions were left with him to reveal after Powell's death that at least one of the romantic affairs of his life had been homosexual. Powell had particularly drawn the Chaplain's attention to lines in his First Poems (published 1937). Biographers such as Simon Heffer dispute this however, and have argued that this did not mean that he was homosexual; merely that he had not yet met any girls. And once he did, he did not look back.
After achieving a double starred first in Latin and Greek, he stayed on at Trinity College as a Fellow, spending much of his time studying ancient manuscripts in Rome and producing academic works in Greek and Welsh.
In 1937 he was appointed Professor of Greek at Sydney University aged 25 (failing in his aim of beating Nietzsche's record of becoming a professor at 24). Amongst his pupils was the future Prime Minister of Australia Gough Whitlam. He revised Stuart-Jones's edition of Thucydides' Historiae for the Oxford University Press in 1938. His most lasting contribution to classical scholarship was his Lexicon to Herodotus (1938).
As well as his education at Cambridge, Powell took a course in Urdu at the School of Oriental Studies, now the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, because he felt that his long-cherished ambition of becoming Viceroy of India would be unattainable without knowledge of an Indian language.
Soon after arrival in Sydney, Australia he was appointed Curator of the Nicholson Museum at Sydney University. He stunned the vice-chancellor by informing him that war would soon break out in Europe, and that when it did he would be heading home to enlist in the army. By the time Powell left King Edward's School in 1930 he had confirmed his instinctive belief that the Armistice was merely temporary and that Britain would be at war with Germany again. During his time there as a professor, he grew increasingly angry at the appeasement of Nazi Germany and what he saw as a betrayal of British national interests. After Neville Chamberlain's first visit to Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden Powell was bitter in a letter to his parents of 18 September 1938:
"I do here in the most solemn and bitter manner curse the Prime Minister of England for having cumulated all his other betrayals of the national interest and honour, by his last terrible exhibition of dishonour, weakness and gullibility. The depths of infamy to which our accurst "love of peace" can lower us are unfathomable".
In another letter to his parents in June 1939, before the outbreak of war, Powell wrote:
"It is the English, not their Government; for if they were not blind cowards, they would lynch Chamberlain and Halifax and all the other Smarmy traitors".
Immediately upon the outbreak of war, Powell returned to England, although not before buying a Russian dictionary, since he thought "Russia would hold the key to our survival and victory, as it had in 1812 and 1916".
Powell's conviction of the anti-Britishness of the Americans continued during the war. Powell cut out and retained all his life an article from the New Statesman newspaper of 13 November 1943, in which the American Clare Boothe Luce said in a speech that Indian independence would mean that the "USA will really have won the greatest war in the world for democracy".
He desperately wanted to go to the Far East to help the fight against Japan because "the war in Europe is won now, and I want to see the Union Flag back in Singapore" before, Powell thought, the Americans beat Britain to it.
Powell began the war as the youngest professor in the Commonwealth; he ended it as the youngest Brigadier in the British army, the only man in the entire war to rise from Private to Brigadier. Powell felt guilty for having survived when many of those he had met during his journey through the ranks had not. When once asked how he would like to be remembered, he at first answered "Others will remember me as they will remember me", but when pressed he replied "I should like to have been killed in the war.
Powell's ambition to be Governor-General of India crumbled in February 1947, when Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced that Indian independence was imminent. Powell was so shocked by the change of policy that he spent the whole night after it was announced walking the streets of London, trying to take it in. He came to terms with it by becoming fiercely anti-imperialist, believing that once India had gone the whole empire should follow it. This logical absolutism explained his later indifference to the Suez crisis, his contempt for the Commonwealth, and his urging that Britain should scrap any remaining pretence that she was a world power.
On 2 January 1952 the 39-year-old Powell married 26-year-old Margaret Pamela Wilson, a former colleague from Conservative Central Office, who provided him with the settled and happy family life that was essential to his political career. They had two daughters, born in January 1954 and October 1956.
On 3 March 1953 Powell spoke against the Royal Titles Bill in the House of Commons. He said he found three major changes to the style of the United Kingdom, "all of which seem to me to be evil". The first one was "that in this title, for the first time, will be recognised a principle hitherto never admitted in this country, namely, the divisibility of the crown". Powell said that the unity of the realm had evolved over centuries and included the British Empire: "It was a unit because it had one Sovereign. There was one Sovereign: one realm". He feared that by "recognising the division of the realm into separate realms, are we not opening the way for that other remaining unity – the last unity of all – that of the person, to go the way of the rest?
The second change he objected to was "the suppression of the word 'British', both from before the words 'Realms and Territories' where it is replaced by the words 'her other' and from before the word 'Commonwealth', which, in the Statute of Westminster, is described as the 'British Commonwealth of Nations'":
"To say that he is Monarch of a certain territory and his other realms and territories is as good as to say that he is king of his kingdom. We have perpetrated a solecism in the title we are proposing to attach to our Sovereign and we have done so out of what might almost be called an abject desire to eliminate the expression 'British'. The same desire has been felt... to eliminate this word before the term 'Commonwealth'.... Why is it, then, that we are so anxious, in the description of our own Monarch, in a title for use in this country, to eliminate any reference to the seat, the focus and the origin of this vast aggregate of territories? Why is it that this 'teeming womb of royal Kings', as Shakespeare called it, wishes now to be anonymous?
Powell went on to claim the answer was that because the British Nationality Act 1948 had removed allegiance to the crown as the basis of citizenship and replaced that with nine separate citizenships combined together by statute. Therefore if any of these nine countries became republics nothing in law would change, as happened with India when it became a republic. Furthermore, Powell went on, the essence of unity was "that all the parts recognise they would sacrifice themselves to the interests of the whole". He denied that there was in India that "recognition of belonging to a greater whole which involves the ultimate consequence in certain circumstances of self-sacrifice in the interests of the whole". Therefore the title 'Head of the Commonwealth', the third major change, was "essentially a sham. They are essentially something which we have invented to blind ourselves to the reality of the position".
These changes were "greatly repugnant" to Powell but:
"... if they are changes which were demanded by those who in many wars had fought with this country, by nations who maintained an allegiance to the Crown, and who signified a desire to be in the future as were in the past; if it were our friends who had come to us and said: 'We want this,' I would say: 'Let it go. Let us admit the divisibility of the Crown. Let us sink into anonymity and cancel the word 'British' from our titles. If they like the conundrum 'Head of the Commonwealth' in the Royal style, let it be there'. However, the underlying evil of this is that we are doing it for the sake not of our friends but of those who are not our friends. We are doing this for the sake of those to whom the very names 'Britain' and 'British' are repugnant.... We are doing this for the sake of those who have deliberately cast off their allegiance to our common Monarchy.For the rest of his life Powell regarded this speech as the finest he ever delivered.
Powell was a member of the Suez Group of MPs who were against the removal of British troops from the Suez Canal because such a move would demonstrate, Powell argued, that Britain could no longer maintain a position there and that any claim to the Suez Canal would therefore be illogical. However, after the troops had left in 1954 and the Egyptians nationalised the Canal in 1956, Powell opposed the British attempts to retake the Canal in the Suez War because he thought the British no longer had the resources to be a world power.
In the late 1950s Powell backed deflation and in the 1960s was an advocate of free market policies which at the time were seen as extreme and unworkable, as well as unpopular. In many respects, Powell can be seen as a Thatcherite avant la lettre: he was calling for the privatisation of the Post Office and the telephone network as early as 1964, over 20 years before these changes actually took place; and, like Mrs Thatcher later, he both scorned the idea of "consensus politics" and wanted the Conservative Party to become a modern businesslike party, freed from its old aristocratic and "old boy network" associations. Perhaps most notably of all, in his 1958 resignation over public spending and what he saw as an inflationary economic policy, he anticipated almost exactly the views that in the 1980s came to be described as "monetarism".
On 27 July 1959 Powell gave his speech on Hola Camp of Kenya, where eleven Mau Mau were killed after refusing work in the camp. Powell noted that some MPs had described the eleven as "sub-human" but Powell responded by saying: "In general, I would say that it is a fearful doctrine, which must recoil upon the heads of those who pronounce it, to stand in judgment on a fellow human being and to say, 'Because he was such-and-such, therefore the consequences which would otherwise flow from his death shall not flow'. Powell also disagreed with the notion that because it was in Africa then different methods were acceptable:
"Nor can we ourselves pick and choose where and in what parts of the world we shall use this or that kind of standard. We cannot say, 'We will have African standards in Africa, Asian standards in Asia and perhaps British standards here at home'. We have not that choice to make. We must be consistent with ourselves everywhere. All Government, all influence of man upon man, rests upon opinion. What we can do in Africa, where we still govern and where we no longer govern, depends upon the opinion which is entertained of the way in which this country acts and the way in which Englishmen act. We cannot, we dare not, in Africa of all places, fall below our own highest standards in the acceptance of responsibility".
Denis Healey, MP from 1952 to 1992, later said this speech was "the greatest parliamentary speech I ever heard... it had all the moral passion and rhetorical force of Demosthenes". The Daily Telegraph report of the speech said that "as Mr Powell sat down, he put his hand across his eyes. His emotion was justified, for he had made a great and sincere speech".
Powell returned to the government in July 1960, when he was appointed Health Minister, albeit outside the Cabinet, but this changed in 1962. In this post he was responsible for promoting an ambitious ten-year programme of general hospital building and for beginning the run-down of the huge psychiatric institutions. In his famous 1961 "Water Tower" speech, he said:
"There they stand, isolated, majestic, imperious, brooded over by the gigantic water-tower and chimney combined, rising unmistakable and daunting out of the countryside - the asylums which our forefathers built with such immense solidity to express the notions of their day. Do not for a moment underestimate their powers of resistance to our assault. Let me describe some of the defences which we have to storm".
The speech catalysed a debate that was one of several strands leading to the Care in the Community initiative of the 1980s. In 1993 however Powell claimed that his policy could have worked but had not. He claimed the criminally insane should have never been released and that the problem was one of funding. He said the new way of caring for the mentally ill would cost more, not less, than the old way because community care was decentralised and intimate as well as being "more human". His successors had not, Powell claimed, provided the money for local authorities to spend on mental health care and therefore institutional care had been run-down whilst at the same time there was no investment in community care.
Later, he oversaw the employment of a large number of Commonwealth immigrants by the understaffed National Health Service. Prior to this, many non-white immigrants who held full rights of citizenship in Britain were obliged to take the jobs that no one else wanted (e.g. street cleaning, night-shift assembly production lines), often paid considerably less than their white counterparts.
Along with Iain Macleod, Powell refused to serve in the Cabinet following the appointment of Alec Douglas-Home as Prime Minister. This refusal was not based on antipathy to Home personally but was in protest against what Macleod and Powell saw as Macmillan's underhand manipulation of colleagues during the process of choosing a new leader. Following the Conservatives' defeat in the 1964 general election, he agreed to return to the front bench as Transport spokesman. In 1965 he stood in the first-ever party leadership election, but came a distant third to Edward Heath, who appointed him Shadow Secretary of State for Defence.
In his first speech to the Conservative Party conference as Shadow secretary of State for Defence on 14 October 1965, Powell outlined a fresh defence policy, jettisoning what he saw as outdated global military commitments left-over from Britain's imperial past and stressing that Britain was a European power and therefore an alliance with Western European states from possible attack from the East was central to Britain's safety. He defended Britain's nuclear weapons (he did not yet advocate unilateral nuclear disarmament) and argued that it was "the merest casuistry to argue that if the weapon and the means of using it are purchased in part, or even altogether, from another nation, therefore the independent right to use it has no reality. With a weapon so catastrophic, it is possession and the right to use which count". Also, Powell called into question Western military commitments East of Suez:
"However much we may do to safeguard and reassure the new independent countries in Asia and Africa, the eventual limits of Russian and Chinese advance in those directions will be fixed by a balance of forces which will itself be Asiatic and African. The two Communist empires are already in a state of mutual antagonism; but every advance or threat of advance by one or the other calls into existence countervailing forces, sometimes nationalist in character, sometimes expansionist, which will ultimately check it. We have to reckon with the harsh fact that the attainment of this eventual equilibrium of forces may at some point be delayed rather than hastened by Western military presence".
The Daily Telegraph journalist David Howell remarked to Andrew Alexander that Powell had "just withdrawn us from East of Suez, and received an enormous ovation because no-one understood what he was talking about". However the Americans were worried by Powell's speech as they wanted British military commitments in South-East Asia as they were still fighting in Vietnam. A transcript of the speech was sent to Washington and the American embassy requested to talk to Heath about the "Powell doctrine". The New York Times said Powell's speech was "a potential declaration of independence from American policy". During the election campaign of 1966 Powell claimed that the British government had contingency plans to send at least a token British force to Vietnam and that, under Labour, Britain "has behaved perfectly clearly and perfectly recognisably as an American satellite". President Johnson had indeed asked Wilson for some British forces for Vietnam, and when it was later suggested to Powell that the view in Washington—that the public reaction to Powell's allegations had made Wilson realise he would not have public opinion on his side and so could not go through with it—Powell responded: "The greatest service I have performed for my country, if that is so". Labour was returned with a large majority, and Powell was retained by Heath as Shadow Defence Secretary as he believed Powell "was too dangerous to leave out".
In a controversial speech on 26 May 1967, Powell criticised Britain's post-war world role:
"In our imagination the vanishing last vestiges... of Britain's once vast Indian Empire have transformed themselves into a peacekeeping role on which the sun never sets. Under God's good providence and in partnership with the United States, we keep the peace of the world and rush hither and thither containing Communism, putting out brush fires and coping with subversion. It is difficult to describe, without using terms derived from psychiatry, a notion having so few points of contact with reality".
As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood'. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now.
The central political issue addressed by the speech was not immigration as such, however. It was the introduction by the Labour Government of the Race Relations Act 1968, which Powell found offensive and immoral. The Act would prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race in certain areas of British life, particularly housing, where many local authorities had been refusing to provide houses for immigrant families until they had lived in the country for a certain number of years.
One feature of his speech was the extensive quotation of a letter he had received detailing the experiences of one of his constituents in Wolverhampton. The writer described the fate of an elderly woman who was supposedly the last white person living in her street. She had repeatedly refused applications from non-whites requiring rooms-to-let, which resulted in her being called a racist outside her home and receiving excrement through her letterbox.
Heath sacked Powell from his Shadow Cabinet the day after the speech, and he never held another senior political post. Powell received almost 120,000 (predominantly positive) letters and a Gallup poll at the end of April showed that 74% of those asked agreed with his speech. After The Sunday Times branded his speeches "racialist", Powell sued it for libel, but withdrew when he was required to provide the letters he had quoted from.
Powell had issued an advance copy of his speech to the media and their appearance at the speech may have been due to the fact that they realised the content was explosive.
In July 1965 he had come third in the Conservative Party leadership contest, obtaining only 15 votes, just below the result Hugh Fraser gained. After the 'Rivers of Blood' speech, however, Powell was transformed into a national public figure and won huge support across Britain. Three days after the speech, on 23 April, as the Race Relations Bill was being debated in the House of Commons, 1,000 dockers marched on Westminster protesting against Powell's "victimisation", and the next day 400 meat porters from Smithfield market handed in a 92-page petition in support of Powell.
Powell spoke in the debate, opposing these plans. He said the reforms were "unnecessary and undesirable" and that there was no weight in the claim that the Lords could "check or frustrate the firm intentions" of the Commons. He claimed that only election or nomination could replace the hereditary nature of the Lords. If they were elected it would pose the dilemma of which House was truly representative of the electorate. He also had another objection: "How can the same electorate be represented in two ways so that the two sets of representatives can conflict and disagree with one another?" Those nominated would be bound to the Chief Whip of their party through a sort of oath and Powell asked "what sort of men and women are they to be who would submit to be nominated to another chamber upon condition that they will be mere dummies, automatic parts of a voting machine?" The inclusion of 30 cross-benchers was "a grand absurdity" because they would have been chosen "upon the very basis that they have no strong views of principle on the way in which the country ought to be governed". Powell claimed the Lords derived their authority not from a strict hereditary system but from its prescriptive nature: "It has long been so, and it works". He then added that there was no widespread desire for reform: he pointed to a recent survey of working-class voters which showed only a third of them wanted to reform or abolish the Lords, with another third believing the Lords were an "intrinsic part of the national traditions of Britain". Powell deduced from this that "As so often the ordinary rank and file of the electorate have seen a truth, an important fact, which has escaped so many more clever people – the underlying value of that which is traditional, that which is prescriptive".
After more speeches against the Bill in early 1969, and with left-wing Labour MPs against Lords reform as well (they wanted abolition), Harold Wilson announced on 17 April that the Bill was being dropped. Wilson's statement was short, with Powell intervening: "Don't eat them too quickly", which provoked much laughter in the House. Later that day Powell said in a speech to the Primrose League:
"There was an instinct, inarticulate but deep and sound, that the traditional, prescriptive House of Lords posed no threat and injured no interests, but might yet, for all its illogicalities and anomalies, make itself felt on occasion to useful purpose. The same sound instinct was repelled by the idea of a new-fashioned second chamber, artificially constructed by power, party and patronage, to function in a particular way. Not for the first time, the common people of this country proved the surest defenders of their traditional institutions.
Powell's biographer Simon Heffer has described the defeat of Lords reform as "perhaps the greatest triumph of Powell's political career".
In a defence debate in March 1970 he claimed that "the whole theory of the tactical nuclear weapon, or the tactical use of nuclear weapons, is an unmitigated absurdity" and that it was "remotely improbable" that any group of nations engaged in war would "decide upon general and mutual suicide" and called for enlargement of Britain's continental army. However when fellow Conservative Julian Amery later in the debate criticised Powell for his anti-nuclear pronouncements, Powell responded: "I have always regarded the possession of the nuclear capability as a protection against nuclear blackmail. It is a protection against being threatened with nuclear weapons. What it is not a protection against is war". However, Powell would later criticise this theory of nuclear deterrence.
Powell had voted against the Schuman plan in 1950 and had supported entry only because he believed that the Common Market was simply a means to secure free trade. In March 1969 he turned forcefully against Britain's joining the European Economic Community. Opposition to entry had hitherto been confined largely to the Labour Party but now, he said, it was clear to him that the sovereignty of Parliament was in question, as was Britain's very survival as a nation. This nationalist analysis attracted millions of grass-roots Conservatives and others, and as much as anything else made Powell the implacable enemy of Heath, a fervent pro-European, but there was already a deep enmity between the two.
The Conservatives had promised at the 1970 election that in relation to the Common Market "Our sole commitment is to negotiate; no more, no less". When Powell saw Heath sign an accession treaty before Parliament had even debated the issue, when the second reading of the Bill to put the Treaty into law passed by just eight votes on second reading, and when it became clear that the British people would have no further say in the matter, he declared open war on his party's line. He voted against the government on every one of the 104 divisions in the course of the European Communities Bill. When finally he lost this battle, he decided he could no longer sit in a parliament that he believed was no longer sovereign. In the summer of 1972 he prepared to resign, and changed his mind only because of fears of a renewed wave of immigration from Uganda following the rise of Idi Amin.
However, in February 1974 Powell left the Conservative Party, mainly because it had taken the UK into the EEC and because it abandoned its manifesto commitments and he therefore could not stand in support of it at the election. The monetarist economist Milton Friedman sent Powell a letter praising his stance as principled. Powell had his friend Andrew Alexander talk with Labour Party leader Harold Wilson's press secretary, Joe Haines, on Powell's timing of his speeches against Heath. Powell had been talking with Wilson irregularly since June 1973 during chance meetings in the gentlemen's toilets of the aye lobby in the House of Commons. Wilson and Haines had ensured that Powell would dominate the newspapers of the Sunday and Monday before election day by having no Labour front bencher give a major speech on 23 February, the day of Powell's speech. Powell gave this speech at the Mecca Dance Hall in the Bull Ring, Birmingham to an audience of 1,500, with some press reports estimating that 7,000 had to be turned away. Powell said the issue of British membership of the EEC was one where "if there be a conflict between the call of country and that of party, the call of country must come first":
"Curiously, it so happens that the question 'Who governs Britain?' which at the moment is being frivolously posed, might be taken, in real earnest, as the title of what I have to say. This is the first and last election at which the British people will be given the opportunity to decide whether their country is to remain a democratic nation, governed by the will of its own electorate expressed in its own Parliament, or whether it will become one province in a new European superstate under institutions which know nothing of the political rights and liberties that we have so long taken for granted".
Powell went on to criticise the Conservative Party for obtaining British membership despite promising at the general election that they would "negotiate: no more, no less" and that Britain needed "the full-hearted consent of Parliament and people" if Britain were to join. He also denounced Heath for accusing his political opponents of lacking respect for Parliament whilst being "the first Prime Minister in three hundred years who entertained, let alone executed, the intention of depriving Parliament of its sole right to make the laws and impose the taxes of this country". He then advocated a vote for the Labour Party:
"The question is: can they now be prevented from taking back into their own hands the decision about their identity and their form of government which truly was theirs all along? I do not believe they can be prevented: for they are now, at a general election, provided with a clear, definite and practicable alternative, namely, a fundamental renegotiation directed to regain free access to world food markets and recover or retain the powers of Parliament, a renegotiation to be followed in any event by a specific submission of the outcome to the electorate, a renegotiation protected by an immediate moratorium or stop on all further integration of the UK into the Community. This alternative is offered, as such an alternative must be in our parliamentary democracy, by a political party capable of securing a majority in the House of Commons and sustaining a Government".
This call to vote Labour shocked some of Powell's supporters who were more concerned with beating socialism than the loss of national independence. On 25 February he made another speech at Shipley urging a vote for Labour and saying he did not believe the claim that Wilson would U-turn on his commitment to renegotiation, which to Powell was ironic considering Heath's premiership: "In acrobatics Harold Wilson, for all his nimbleness and skill, is simply no match for the breathtaking, thoroughgoing efficiency of the present Prime Minister". At this moment a heckler shouted out "Judas!" Powell responded: "Judas was paid! Judas was paid! I am making a sacrifice! Later in the speech Powell said: "I was born a Tory, am a Tory and shall die a Tory. It is part of me... it is something I cannot alter". In 1987 Powell said there was no contradiction between urging people to vote Labour whilst proclaiming to be a Tory: "Many Labour members are quite good Tories".
Powell, in an interview on 26 February, said he would be voting for Helen Middleweek, the Labour candidate, rather than the Conservative Nicholas Budgen. When on 1 March Powell saw The Times headline "Mr Heath's general election gamble fails" he reacted by singing Te Deum. The election result was a hung parliament with Labour five seats ahead of the Conservatives. The national swing to Labour was 1 per cent; 4 per cent in Powell's heartland, the West Midlands conurbation; and 16 per cent in his old constituency (although Budgen won the seat). Both Powell and Heath believed that Powell was responsible for the Conservatives losing the election.
Since 1968 Powell had been an increasingly frequent visitor to Northern Ireland, and in keeping with his general British nationalist viewpoint he sided strongly with the Ulster Unionists in their desire to maintain British rule. From early 1971 he opposed, with increasing vehemence, Heath's approach to Northern Ireland, the greatest breach with his party coming over the imposition of direct rule in 1972. He was a strong believer in the United Kingdom, and he believed that it would survive only if the Unionists strove to integrate fully with the United Kingdom by abandoning the devolved rule that Northern Ireland had until recently enjoyed. He refused point-blank to join the Orange Institution – the first Ulster Unionist MP at Westminster never to be a member (and to date only one of three, the others being Ken Maginnis and Lady Hermon), and he was an outspoken opponent of the more extremist Unionism espoused by the Reverend Ian Paisley and his supporters.
In the aftermath of the 21 November 1974 Birmingham pub bombings by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), the government passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act. During its second reading Powell warned of passing legislation "in haste and under the immediate pressure of indignation on matters which touch the fundamental liberties of the subject; for both haste and anger are ill counsellors, especially when one is legislating for the rights of the subject". He said terrorism was a form of warfare which could not be prevented by laws and punishments but by the aggressor's certainty that the war was impossible to win.
When Heath called a leadership election at the end of 1974, Powell claimed they would have to find someone who was not a member of the Cabinet "which, without a single resignation or public dissent, not merely swallowed but advocated every single reversal of election pledge or party principle".
During the 1975 referendum on British membership of the EEC, Powell campaigned unsuccessfully for a 'No' vote. On 23 March 1977, in a vote of confidence against the minority Labour government, Powell, along with a few other Ulster Unionists, abstained. The government won by 322 votes to 298, and remained in power for another two years.
During 1983 his local agent was Jeffrey Donaldson, later an Ulster Unionist MP before defecting to the DUP.
Powell claimed that the only way to stop the PIRA was for Northern Ireland to be an integral part of the United Kingdom, treated no differently from any other of its constituent parts. He claimed the ambiguous nature of the province's status, with its own parliament and prime minister, gave hope to the PIRA that it could be detached from the rest of the UK:
"Every word or act which holds out the prospect that their 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".
In Powell's later career as an Ulster Unionist MP he continued to criticise the United States, and claimed that the Americans were trying to persuade the British to push Northern Ireland into an all-Ireland state because the condition for Irish membership of NATO, Powell claimed, was Northern Ireland. The Americans wanted to close the 'yawning gap' in NATO defence that was the southern Irish coast to northern Spain. Powell had a copy of a State Department Policy Statement from 15 August 1950 in which the American government said that the 'agitation' caused by partition in Ireland "lessens the usefulness of Ireland in international organisations and complicates strategic planning for Europe". "It is desirable", the document continued, "that Ireland should be integrated into the defense planning of the North Atlantic area, for its strategic position and present lack of defensive capacity are matters of significance.
Though he voted with the Conservatives in a vote of confidence that brought down the Labour government on 28 March, Powell did not welcome the victory of Margaret Thatcher in the May 1979 election. "Grim" was Powell's response when he was asked what he thought of Thatcher's victory. During the election campaign, Thatcher again said that there would be no place for Powell in her cabinet if the Conservatives won the General Election. Powell later came to appreciate and praise Thatcher's patience and tenacity in getting her own way, and although he was on supposedly good terms with Thatcher (she claimed her own monetarist policies stemmed from Powell's, to which he remarked drily, "A pity she did not understand them!"), he remained at odds with Thatcher over her pro-American foreign policy and her support for nuclear weapons. She also dismissed his claims over Airey Neave's and Lord Mounbatten's murders.
After Mrs Thatcher's Bruges Speech in September 1988 and her increasing hostility to the abolition of the pound sterling in the last years of her premiership, Powell made many speeches publicly supporting her attitude to Europe. In early September 1989 a collection of Powell's speeches on Europe was published titled Enoch Powell on 1992 (1992 being the year set for the European Single Market). In a speech at Chatham House for the launch of the book on 6 September, he advised Thatcher to fight the next general election on a nationalist theme as many Eastern European nations previously under Russian rule were gaining their freedom. At the Conservative Party conference in October he told a fringe meeting: "I find myself today less on the fringe of that party than I have done for 20 years". On 5 January 1990, addressing Conservatives in Liverpool, Powell claimed that if the Conservatives played the "British card" at the next general election they could win; that the new mood in Britain for "self-determination" had given the newly independent nations of Eastern Europe a "beacon", adding that Britain should stand alone, if necessary, for European freedom. Five days after this speech, in an interview for The Daily Telegraph, Thatcher praised Powell: "I have always read Enoch Powell's speeches and articles very carefully... I always think it was a tragedy that he left. He is a very, very able politician. I say that even though he has sometimes said vitriolic things against me".
When Thatcher was challenged by Michael Heseltine for the leadership of the Conservative Party in November 1990, Powell said he would rejoin the party – which he had left in 1974 over the issue of Europe – if Thatcher won, and would urge the public to support both her and, in Powell's view, national independence. As it turned out she resigned, and Powell never rejoined the Conservative party. Powell also had a detached and philosophical view about Thatcher's downfall.
In the 1980s Powell began espousing the policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. In a debate on the nuclear deterrent on 3 March 1981 Powell claimed that the debate was now more political than military; that Britain did not possess an independent deterrent and that through NATO Britain was tied to the nuclear deterrence theory of the United States. In the debate on the address shortly after the general election of 1983, Powell picked up on Thatcher's willingness, when asked, to use nuclear weapons in the "last resort". Powell gave a scenario of what he though the last resort would be, namely that the Soviet Union would be ready to invade Britain and had used a nuclear weapon on somewhere such as Rockall to demonstrate their willingness to use it:
"What would the United Kingdom do? Would it discharge Polaris, Trident or whatever against the main centres of population of the Continent of Europe or in European Russia? If so, what would be the consequence? The consequence would not be that we should survive, that we should repel our antagonist – nor would it be that we should escape defeat. The consequence would be that we would make certain, as far as is humanly possible, the virtual destruction and elimination of the hope of the future in these islands.... I would much sooner that the power to use it was not in the hands of any individual in this country at all".
Powell went on to say that if the Soviet invasion had already begun and Britain deployed a retaliatory strike the results would be the same: "We should be condemning, not merely to death, but as near as may be the non-existence of our population". To Powell an invasion would take place with or without Britain's nuclear weapons and therefore there was no point in retaining it. He said that after years of consideration he had come to the conclusion that there was no "rational grounds on which the deformation of our defence preparations in the United Kingdom by our determination to maintain a current independent nuclear deterrent can be justified".
In 1984, Powell also claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency had murdered Earl Mountbatten of Burma and that the deaths of the MPs Airey Neave and Robert Bradford were carried out by the USA in order to stop Neave's policy of integration for Northern Ireland. Then in 1986 he again argued that Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) had not killed Airey Neave but that "MI6 and their friends" were responsible instead, claiming to have been told so by RUC officers.
Enoch Powell lost his seat in the 1987 general election to the Social Democratic Labour Party's Eddie McGrady, mainly due to demographic and boundary changes which resulted in there being many more Catholics in the constituency than before. Ironically, the boundary changes had arisen due to his own campaign for the number of MPs representing Northern Ireland to be increased to the equivalent proportion for the rest of the United Kingdom, as part of the steps towards greater integration. He was offered a life peerage, which was regarded as his right as a former cabinet minister, but declined it. He argued that, as he had opposed the Life Peerages Act 1958, it would be hypocritical for him to take one.
Powell claimed in an article for The Guardian on 7 December 1988 that the new Western-friendly foreign policy of Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev heralded "the death and burial of the American empire". In spring 1989 he made a programme for the BBC (broadcast in July) on his visit to Russia and his impressions on that country. This included going to the graves of 600,000 people who died during the siege of Leningrad and saying that he could not believe a people who had suffered so much would willingly start another war. He also went to a veterans' parade (wearing his own medals) and talked with Russian soldiers with the aid of an interpreter. However the programme was criticised by those who believed that Powell had dismissed the Soviet Union's threat to the West since 1945, so impressed had he been with Russia's sense of national identity.
When German reunification was on the agenda in 1990, Powell claimed that Britain urgently needed to create an alliance with the Soviet Union in view of Germany's effect on the balance of power in Europe.
After Iraq invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990, Powell claimed that, because Britain was not an ally of Kuwait in the "formal sense" and because the balance of power in the Middle East had ceased to be a British concern after the end of the British Empire, Britain should not go to war. Powell claimed that "Saddam Hussein has a long way to go yet before his troops come storming up the beaches of Kent or Sussex"; after Britain claimed to be defending small nations from attack, Powell said "I sometimes wonder if, when we shed our power, we omitted to shed our arrogance".
In the autumn of 1992, at the age of 80, Powell was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's Disease. 1994 was marked by the publication of The Evolution of the Gospel, A New Translation of the First Gospel with Commentary and Introductory Essay. During the final years of his life he managed occasional pieces of journalism and co-operated in a BBC documentary about his life in 1995. When Labour won the 1997 General Election, Powell told his wife that the electorate had voted to break up the United Kingdom. By this time Powell had been hospitalised several times as a result of a succession of falls. Powell began, but did not complete, work on a study of the Gospel of John. It was unfinished at the time of his death, aged 85, at 4:30 a.m. on 8 February 1998 at the King Edward VII Hospital for Officers in the City of Westminster, London.
Dressed in his brigadier's uniform, Enoch Powell was buried in his regiment's plot in Warwick Cemetery, Warwickshire, ten days later, after a family requiem at Westminster Abbey and a public service at St. Margaret's, Westminster. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.
Powell was reading Greek by the age of five, learning it from his mother. At age 70 he began learning his 12th and final language, Hebrew.
Powell had remarked that "all political lives end in failure" and did not hesitate to agree that this maxim applied to his own. Like Tony Benn (a personal friend from a different political background, whom Powell had helped to renounce his peerage and so remain an elected Member of Parliament), he was seen by supporters as putting conscience and duty to his constituents before loyalty to his party or the sake of his career.
Powell's rhetorical gifts were also employed, with success, beyond politics. He was a poet of some accomplishment, with four published collections to his name: First Poems; Casting Off; Dancer's End; and The Wedding Gift. His Collected Poems appeared in 1990. He translated Herodotus (The History of Herodotus) and published many other works of classical scholarship. He published a biography of Joseph Chamberlain, which treated the split with Gladstone over Irish Home Rule in 1886 as the pivotal point of his career, rather than the adoption of Tariff Reform, and which contained the famous line that "all political careers, unless they are cut off at some happy juncture, end in failure". Powell published many books on political matters too, which were often annotated collections of his speeches. His political publications were often as critical of his own party as they were of Labour, often making fun of what he saw as logical fallacies in reasoning or action. His book Freedom & Reality contained many quotes from Labour party manifestos or by Harold Wilson which he regarded as nonsensical.
Powell said "I have and always will set my face like flint against making any difference between one citizen of this country and another on grounds of his origins. In The Trial of Enoch Powell, a Channel 4 television broadcast in April 1998, on the thirtieth anniversary of his Birmingham speech (and two months after his death), 64% of the studio audience voted that Powell was not a racist. However, some in the Church took a different view: upon his death the Bishop of Croydon stated "Enoch Powell gave a certificate of respectability to white racist views which otherwise decent people were ashamed to acknowledge.
The conservative commentator Bruce Anderson has noted that the "Rivers of Blood" speech would have come as a complete surprise to anyone who had studied his record: he had been a West Midlands MP for 18 years but had said hardly anything about immigration. On this view, the speech was merely part of a badly miscalculated strategy to become party leader if Ted Heath should fall. Anderson adds that the speech had no effect on immigration, except to make it more difficult for the subject to be discussed rationally in polite society.
Powell's detractors often assert that he was 'far-right', 'proto-fascist' or 'racist'. The first two charges clash with his voting record on most social issues, such as homosexual law reform - he was actually co-sponsor of a Bill on this issue in May 1965 - and the abolition of the death penalty, both liberal reforms which had limited support in the Conservative Party at the time, although he did little to call public attention to his stance on these non-party "issues of conscience".
He voted against the return of the death penalty in 1969, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1983 and 1987. Although substantial sections of the public supported Powell on the issues for which he was better known, most of the "liberal intelligentsia" tended to denounce him as a racist. For some, this charge seems unconvincing in the light of Powell's pre-political actions, and it was not until the late 1960s that he made speeches on immigration and nationality. On this view, he is perhaps better classified as a romantic British nationalist than any sort of fascist: like Michael Foot from the other end of the political spectrum (with whom he joined forces on constitutional issues such as defeating House of Lords reform and opposing Britain's entry to the European Community), he was an ardent constitutionalist, worshipping Parliament as the cradle of democracy, whereas most actual fascists want to abolish the democratic institutions.
Powell's speeches and TV interviews throughout his political life displayed a suspicion towards "The Establishment" in general, and by the 1980s there was a regular expectation that he would make some sort of speech or act in a way designed to upset the government and ensure he would not be offered a Life Peerage (and thus be transferred to the House of Lords), which he had no intention of accepting so long as Edward Heath sat in the Commons. (Heath remained in the Commons until after Powell's death.) He had opposed the 1958 Life Peerages Act and felt it would be hypocritical to accept a life peerage himself, while no Prime Minister was ever willing to offer him a hereditary peerage.
The South African-born British musician Manfred Mann released an instrumental track entitled "Konekuf" in the 1970s, indicating his opinion of Powell. The title is designed to be read backwards. John Cale's "Graham Greene" also mentions Powell, although the context is more obscure, and in 1970 ska and reggae singer Millie sang "Enoch Power" against Powell. The song began with the German national anthem. The Beatles' song "Get Back" was originally conceived as a critical and satirical commentary of Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech. Earlier versions of the song, titled "Commonwealth" and "No Pakistanis," the latter of which very closely resembles the finished product, are circulated with bootlegs of the Let It Be sessions. The Beatles ultimately decided against releasing the song in this earlier form, fearing that the ironic intent might go over some people's heads and that the song might lead listeners to mistakenly believe that the group were actually endorsing Powell's views rather than criticising them.
Arthur Wise's 1970 novel Who Killed Enoch Powell? examines what the consequences might be for the United Kingdom if Powell were to be the victim of a political assassination. The novel was a runner-up for the MWA's Edgar award in the category of Best Mystery Novel.
Powell's name was mentioned in some of the more daring BBC comedies of the 1960s and 1970s, e.g. in several Monty Python's Flying Circus skits, including "Travel Agent" and "Election Special". In a Christmas episode of Steptoe and Son, the elder Steptoe sings "Enoch's Dreaming of a White Christmas," (after the fashion of the Bing Crosby song "White Christmas") as he prepares Christmas decorations at the table. Powell is also referred to approvingly by Alf Garnett a number of times in episodes of Till Death Us Do Part (British TV series), as for example in an episode about a power cut, when he says "It's a pity old Enoch ain't in charge. He'd sort them out. He'd put the coons down the pits, he would," as a black technician comes into the room behind him to fix the family's broken television. In the Scatty Safari episode The Goodies Bill, Tim and Graeme inadvertently unleash a rapidly multiplying plague of Rolf Harrises. Graeme estimates that there will be 25 million Rolf Harrises by Christmas. Tim is reading the paper and says that it is "exactly what Enoch says" and then comments that he (Enoch) is moving to Jamaica. In the Vicar of Dibley episode "Election" David Horton comments that he is "going to suffer the worst political defeat since Enoch Powell stood in Brixton on the whites only ticket".
The main character in Moses Ascending, a novel about immigrants in London by Sam Selvon, writes Powell a letter. The scene is highly ironic.
He is also mentioned in White Teeth (written by Zadie Smith), in the film East is East, the novel The Buddha of Suburbia, and in many other films and novels associated with Britain's ethnic minorities.
In the musical version of "Acorn Antiques" John The Director's ill-fated operetta of "Acorn Antiques" is rehearsed in the "Enoch Powell Performing Arts Centre and Leisure Complex".
He is mentioned in numerous episodes of the BBC series "Life on Mars" - eg Series 2 Episode 3 the gov explains the likelihood of an event occurring "Maybe Enoch Powell is throwing one at Shirley Bassey"
Enoch Powell sat for sculptor Alan Thornhill for a portrait in clay. The correspondence file relating to the Powell portrait bust is held as part of the Thornhill Papers (2006:56) in the archive of the Henry Moore Foundation's Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and the terracotta remains in the collection of the artist.