Enoch Powell’s ghost has killed David Cameron’s career and how symmetrical the tragedy is.
Powell, who once wished damnation on Chamberlain for appeasing Hitler, has reached from beyond the grave to ruin an even worse failure as Prime Minister. Powell, the voice of British xenophobia for so many years, perhaps didn’t realise what a seed he had planted or what a thorny briar it would grow into. Despite his personal hubris, the man who expected from his teens to become Viceroy of India might well have failed to understand the motivations of hoi polloi. Perhaps in his magnificent mind, the classics professor thought that his utterances were all Greek to the lower orders, but if so, how wrong Enoch Powell was.
[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]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.[/dropshadowbox]
Thus spoke Powell. But even he could hardly have suspected that a Prime Minister would behave as crassly as Cameron. Powell the intellectual could hardly have supposed that any PM would be so stupid as to gamble on the stupidity of the Great British Unwashed, especially an unwashed that had for years festered in the propaganda of those who sought to profit from hatred, from xenophobia and from ignorance.
Enoch Powell might well appreciate the symmetry of David Cameron’s capitulation, a political life ending in failure but also cut off in midstream, though hardly at a happy juncture.
If he took a moment to ponder, Powell might well conclude that he himself had sown the seeds of the anti-immigrant hatred that led to a narrow Brexit margin, though he might not be so happy to reflect that he was the only major figure in modern history who evoked rivers of blood, apart from Saddam Hussein.
It was in the seed-bed prepared by Powell that the shoots of anti-immigrant ignorance took root and eventually undermined David Cameron’s foundations, but at the same time, his demise was predictable once he dabbled with things he didn’t understand. The toffs of the Bullingdon Club — David Cameron and Boris Johnson — might as well be looking into a bush as trying to understand the lower orders in their class-ridden society and their joint gamble failed, though with different outcomes.
Powell understood the proletariat well enough, as a man who rose through the ranks from Private to Brigadier in five short years, thanks to his prodigious intellect. He knew that the British Tommy was deliberately bred to be a savage fighting unit by his aristocratic betters. He grasped the fact that the Empire desired to cull these fighting units in a hail of lead war upon war for fear their vote might make a difference in the homeland.
Powell was untroubled by such ugly notions, and it’s reasonable to assume that neither Cameron nor Johnson lost much sleep about it either, just as Thatcher didn’t when sending an expeditionary force to the South Atlantic in defence of New Zealand’s mineral rights over a rocky outpost governed by a man with a feathered helmet and a ceremonial sword.
But the difference is that Cameron and Johnson took a chance and gambled on the Great British Unwashed not bothering to turn out for the vote. What’s doubly ironic is that Cameron and Johnson hoped for the same thing — a Brexit defeat — and now Cameron is gone while Johnson simply ran away. But here comes Theresa May to replace Cameron and suddenly Johnson is appointed Foreign Secretary.
I don’t know if there’s an old Chinese curse to cover these situations, but if not, there should be.
May you get what you wished for.
Enoch would surely be chuckling in ancient Greek.