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March 09, 2008



I disagree with almost the whole of that post. Powell is my political hero and I think he was partially right in his warnings. Powell claimed that the danger was that immigrants were not settling across the whole of Britain but gathering together in the inner cities. This would make integration harder and they would form their own communities, fueling communalism. I don't think anyone can say he was wholly wrong on that point but I do agree that he was wrong--so far?--to predict civil war.

Jameson F

'the true author of Shakespeare'?

weird usage.

Hank Whittemore

Why is it preposterous to question the Shakespeare authorship? To ask it another way, what aside from tradition would lead you to choose the money lender and grain dealer from Stratford? If you hadn't been told he was the author, what would lead you to think he wrote Hamlet or Richard II or Love's Labour's Lost? Your point of view requires one to ignore the vast knowledge within the Shakespeare works.


Hank Whittemore, why do Anti-Stratfordians assume that 'the vast knowledge within the Shakespeare works' must come from direct experience? As the New Criterion pointed out a couple of years ago, it's as if nobody ever read up on anything, or picked someone's brains. I wish I could remember who reduced this argument to absurdity by arguing, with a straight face, that the works show such insight into women's psychology that 'Shakespeare' must have been a woman.

colin  wiles

Reading Powell's speech I was struck by the similarities with Rowan Williams' recent speech on sharia law - both are dense, obscure and lacking in clarity. We should beware of pseudo intellectuals, they are more dangerous than the real thing.


"why do Anti-Stratfordians assume that 'the vast knowledge within the Shakespeare works' must come from direct experience?"

The same reason those fooled by flying saucer photographs produced by "simple folk" can never accept it: hick arrogance.

Oliver Kamm

Mr Whittemore, the short answer to your question of what would lead me to suppose Shakespeare the true author is the testimony of Ben Jonson, who both knew the actor from Stratford and demonstrably believed him to be the playwright. The only way you can get round this - which for all I know may well be the route you take - is to assert that Jonson was in on the conspiracy.

There is, of course, no evidence for this whatsoever, just as there is no evidence for the rest of your case that the Earl of Oxford was the true author. There is, moreover, a great deal of evidence against Oxford, notably the fact that he died in 1604 and thus cannot have been the author of The Tempest. It was for that inconvenient chronological reason and no other that the founding father of the Oxfordian theory, the aptly named J. Thomas Looney, concluded that The Tempest was not an authentic part of the canon.

This form of reasoning is pure, unfalsifiable conspiracy theory and I would prefer not to discuss it in this thread, which is about British politics.


The key sentence in this post is "His speech was a nice instance of incitement masquerading as prophecy" - 'incitement' being the key word here. That in my view is Powell’s political legacy - the 'prophecy' was a self-fulfilling one. Oliver, you put your finger on the effect of the speech very nicely here.

David Duff

I think this blog, noted as it is for its generous magnanimity to opponents, could forgive Powell his lacuna over the authorship of Shakespeare's plays(*). After all, he is not alone as a highly learned man with some dipstick notions; take our host here who can type with a straight face:

"The changes of the 1960s (some of them proposed by private members but assisted by the government) in penal reform, the abolition of capital punishment, homosexual law reform, abortion law reform, race relations and the loosening of censorship made Britain a freer and more civilised society."

If he thinks that Britain's contemporary culture of drugs, murder, mayhem, promiscuity, welfare dependency and bureaucratic inteference at every level of our lives is an improvement in civility over the 1950s he is, alas, yet another victim of that modern disease, ideology at all, or any, costs over experience and reality.

(*) For me, the clincher that it was the country boy from Stratford who wrote the plays is contained in Caroline Spurgeon's scholarly analysis of the imagery in the plays: "Shakespeare's Imagery and what it tells us"


If Powell was creating a problem rather than expressing views held by a large number of people, surely the reaction would have been a steady growth in interest as his views persuaded people, rather than the immediate sensation they actually caused and the huge support he received from people who felt that their concerns were being ignored. Lord Lester talks about the "charged debates about integration and assimilation" - but if these debates were being held openly, why the sensation caused by Powell? You don't have to be a racist to think that post-war government plans for mass immigration (particularly to declining industrial towns) were extremely stupid, but the decision of the political class to stifle debate meant that if you opposed mass planned immigration, racist far-right parties were your only option. As in so many areas, the consensus politics of the thirty years after WWII was hugely damaging.

None of this changes the fact that the speech itself was racist and abhorrent, of course.

Shakespeare's Sister

Oliver Kamm exudes liberal hauteur from every pore of his body. To ascribe evil motives to Powell is at odds with everything we know about the man. As for the claim that he incited rather than predicted ethnic strife, it bears no serious scrutiny.

What Kamm is doing is setting up a Catch 22 for anyone who wishes to warn of the negative consequences of mass immigration: to predict is to precipitate.

Oliver - you don't want to listen because you are opposed to Powell's concept of Britain as a nation state and regard it as a threat to your Weltanschauung. That is your right. But it's also clear that you don't want us to listen either. By demonising the man and hurling abuse ("overpowering malevolence") you betray your fear that the majority, if allowed to listen to the arguments, will side with Enoch Powell rather than you.

Sic Transit

If you read the transcript of his speech, you'll find that the most inflammatory sections are artfully included within quotation marks and taken from real or imagined constituents (those "wide-grinning piccaninnies"). But the message is inescapable. It's one of nativist bigotry.

Would that be anything like the "nativist bigotry" that has ensured Japan, in rejecting mass immigration by non-natives, remains free of problems with non-natives? Or anything like the "nativist bigotry" that informs Israel's sensible policies on immigration?

@Shakespeare's Sister

...you betray your fear that the majority, if allowed to listen to the arguments, will side with Enoch Powell rather than you.

The majority DID listen and DID side with Powell: he had huge support throughout the country. But liberals like Oliver Kamm knew better and allowed mass immigration by some far from liberal groups to continue. They have sown the wind and shall reap the whirlwind.


I have never met another person who reads Oliver Kamms essays, but i know very many people including all my immediate family members who believe 'Enoch was right".

I believe this country would be a better place without the huge none white ethnic communitys forced down our collective throats by an arrogant and cowardly political class.

Oliver Kamm

Blimey. This is like writing for "Comment is Free".


Interestingly, in the BBC programme, Powell was rightly vilified for his use of the word 'piccaninnies' without any reference to the fact that at least one promient member of the Tory Party, the one running for Mayor of London, still uses the word.


Mr. Kamm,

If I might place a cautious, respectful and (hopefully) in point comment, one might take your statement that "(i)t is that liberals have taken their own principles for granted, rather than asserting them as a common set of civic values that supersede every other attachment" as a call to orthodoxy which is almost religious in character.

Once you place a set of values above all other attachments - and I presume you don't include home and family amongst the attachments to be superceded - those values essentially become a religion; regardless of whether he was right or wrong, was a good man or bad man, one can't help but wonder part of the offence Powell gave was not what he actually said, but the very fact he dared to question the orthodoxies which Lords Jenkins and Lester seemed to hold to their breasts as closely as Powell seemed to hold his own orthodoxies to his.

Lord Jenkins's own, and very real, mistake was not "(failing to perceive) the necessity of volubly defending the principle of a secular society"; it was assuming that everyone else thought the same way he did - not what one might think to be a very liberal position.


...it was assuming that everyone else thought the same way he did - not what one might think to be a very liberal position.

This reminds me of a quote at the front of Maurice Cowling's Mill and Liberalim:

"It is an inevitable mark of what the late Sir Edwyn Hoskyns used to call the 'tyranny of liberalism' that the liberal is not only convinced that he is right; he is also convinced that other people secretly agree with him—how could they do otherwise?—and are only restrained from saying so by unworthy motives arising from worldly prudence, material interest, and so forth."

Shakespeare's Sister

"Blimey. This is like writing for "Comment is Free"."

You didn't just express your disagreement with Powell's analysis; you abused him and questioned his integrity. Many of us admire your writing on other issues but we admire Enoch much more. He dared to say what we think and we revere his memory.

Even those of us who weren't alive when he made his most famous speech.

Andy M

I normally enjoy your output immensely, Mr Kamm, but your essays are not usually so light on reasoned argument and so heavy on the ad hominem (except when you write about the egregious Neil Clark). The fact that the speech has become notorious for a phrase that was never actually used in it is surely an indicator of the way the man who gave it was demonised in preference to any serious engagement with the argument he wished to make. And anyone wishing to dismiss that argument needs to do better than simply to airily wave away the 7/7 bombings as the product of a foreign ideology. If that is the case, then why exactly did they happen here?

Many, many commentators (you are an honourable exception) regarded the 7/7 bombings as straightforward payback for the Iraq war. The fact that the perpetrators came from Leeds was regarded by many as neither here nor there. They were Muslims (ran this argument), and therefore it was only to be expected that they should seek to take revenge on the British for what was being done to other Muslims overseas. Curiously, it was not mainly right-wingers who took this line, but the most ardent proponents of anti-racism and communalist politics. The fact that they seemed completely unaware of exactly how right this reasoning demonstrates Enoch Powell to have been is just one of the many ironies that begin to pile up as soon as you take a hard look at the way the issues of race and immigration have been handled in this country since the war.

If you don't want your commenters to discuss the authorship of Shakespeare, perhaps it would be wise to refrain from using a politician's interest in the issue as evidence of an unbalanced mind. It may well be so, but it adds nothing at all to your argument to mention it.

Your point about the secular state is well-made, but unfortunately gets rather lost amidst the ad hominem. I am no admirer of Enoch Powell, and yet I feel strongly that the way a quotation from Virgil (for heaven's sake) has been twisted and turned into one of the touchstones of 'right-on' politics does a great disservice, not to the man, but to the argument that mass immigration is not necessarily a recipe for peace, love and brotherhood.

King Norton

I agree with you to some extent Oliver. I don't believe he was a racist - i think he was intelligent, and one of the benefits of intelligence is overcoming any atavistic racial arrogance. But what you rightly describe as malevolence was a combination of arrogance and intense ambition, and common decency and humanity failed him as a result.
Enoch was an English romantic - when i read his St George's Day speech to the Winston Churchill Society i get carried away on the prose and the feeling. It's almost doggerel, and includes some passages are very un-English, but i think it contains traces of gentleness and humanity that rescue it from verging deep into blood and soil territory.
However "Rivers of blood" is different. Enoch was becoming yesterday's man, and he needed a boost for his last chance to get what he felt was his rightful position, the Conservative leadership, from a man he considered an intellectual pygmy. Virgil provides a figleaf for what is nasty dog-whistle politics, eyebrows raised and elbow nudging.. It was a calculated combination of the eternal romantic with the immediate politic. He understood the impact of his words, and was aiming for elevation to PM. And i think he was aiming for it by popular acclamation, which makes his speech slightly more sinister.
I can understand reactionaries holding a candle for him - it's like a desperate relative looking for solace and validation from a bogus clairvoyant. But i was dissappointed when decent people such as John Biffen did not feel able to disown the indecent - i think Enoch caused a convulsion that the nasty party is only now getting over.

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