The Evening of Life   /   Fall 2018   /    Notes And Comments

“Rivers of Blood” Revisited

Christopher Sandford

Enoch Powell, 1987, by Allan Warren; Wikimedia Commons.

Taking another look at Enoch Powell.

Enoch Powell, the great contrarian of twentieth-century British politics, seems to have richly fulfilled the judgment he made on that party-hopping statesman of an earlier era, Joseph Chamberlain, when he wrote, “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream, at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”

Appointed in January 1957 to what he called “the best job in government,” financial secretary to the Treasury, Powell resigned a year later when he found himself at odds with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s notions of state intervention and public spending. In 1960 Powell was brought back to the top table as minister of health, only to quit once more when Alec Douglas-Home replaced Macmillan in 1963. When Douglas-Home stood down as head of the Conservative Party in 1965 (Labour had won control of Parliament the preceding year), Powell decided to contest the party leadership but lost to Edward Heath, who appointed him shadow defense spokesman. During his three-year tenure, Powell vocally blamed “American imperialism” for having dislocated Western Europe at the end of the Second World War and was reluctant to visit Washington when invited to do so in 1966. Asked near the end of hislife what his greatest regret had been, Powell, who had served in the British army in World War II as its youngest brigadier, replied, “I wish I had been killed fighting for my country.” 

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