Thursday 27 August 2009

What Hannan gets wrong about Enoch

"For a long time Powell's critics have been saying how extraordinary it is that a man who could have risen to somewhere near the top as a proconsul, staff officer, civil servant or academic should have chosen politics, the one career which seemed certain to defeat him. For the outstanding thing about Powell has been that he is not a politician, which means, quite honourably, a compromiser".

So wrote The Observer as early as 1961 in a profile which Simon Heffer, praises, in his own magisterial biography of Powell, "as perhaps the most insightful piece of journalism ever written about Powell".

So perhaps it is not difficult to see why Enoch Powell should be a political hero of Mr Daniel Hannan, who recently returned from holiday robustly unapologetic about his guerilla campaign to chip away at any sense that Cameroonian brand decontamination has changed in any way what right-thinking Tories believe.

It is probably more than Powell's fervent Euroscepticism. Perhaps it is also that he was almost certainly the most uncompromisingly ideologically driven frontbench politician of the twentieth century.

What Hannan said in an interview with the Reason Foundation in California was this:

Q: "Who are your political influences? I've seen you reference Ron Paul, I believe you have referenced Hayek and Friedman on your blog.

Hannan: "Yeah, all of those guys...In the British context, Enoch Powell. He was somebody who understood the importance of national democracy, who understood why you need to live in an independent country and what that meant, as well as being a free marketeer and a small government Conservative."

Paul Waugh reports that CCHQ is relaxed, because Hannan was not praising Powell's views on immigration or race. Cameron previously defenestrated the Tory ppc and former Birmingham Post Nigel Hastilow for innocuously suggesting that "Enoch was right" about immigration, and refusing to withdraw the remarks or apologise.

While CCHQ are simply seeking to duck or contain the controversy, Powell's views on the nature of national independence can not very easily be separated from his controversial views on immigration or "race". (Powell was adamant that he did not believe in race or racial categories - but his belief in nation involved a cultural essentialism and a 'kith and kin' understanding of who could ever belong to 'a people').

For Powell, these questions were inextricably linked, and formed the core of his political beliefs. And the priority he gave to the existential question of national identity trumped his instincts as a 'small government' Conservative.

Now I very much doubt that anything of the "dog whistle" is intended in Hannan's argument, though I do rather expect that he may take some mischevious pleasure in tweaking the Cameroonian tail by praising Enoch while not crossing the line.

I take Hannan to be sincere in his Hayekian liberalism, which makes him a liberal on race and on immigration too.

However, I very much doubt that those views can sensibly be combined with any substantive praise for Powell's views on the nature or meaning of national independence.

This seems to me indisputable if one reads not just the famous Rivers of Blood speech, but in Powell's next speech on this topic given in Eastbourne seven months later (full text) which is rather less well known.

I wrote about this speech in detail on Open Democracy last year to show why Nigel Farage - who also has libertarian instincts - must be mistaken in his understanding of what Powell was advocating to make the claim that "Had we listened to Enoch, we would have much better race relations now than we have got", which reflects a commonplace mythology about Enoch's impact on the immigration debate.

I don't wish to deny Hannan his right to pick his own political heroes or talk about them in public - but he might do well to acknowledge that Powell's understanding of nationhood must be of very little use to any modern, libertarian or non-reactionary Euroscepticism today.

Certainly, no libertarian Eurosceptic could find much use for Powell's views of the essence of nationhood and national independence.

"Sometimes people point to the increasing proportion of immigrant offspring born in this country as if the fact contained within itself the ultimate solution. The truth is the opposite. The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still.

Could any "small government Conservative" ever advocate this?

People seriously underestimate the scope of the policy and thus neglect and despise the chief key to the situation .... A programme of large-scale voluntary but organized, financed and subsidized repatriation and re-emigration becomes indeed an administrative and political task of great magnitude, but something neither absurdly impracticable nor, still less, inhuman, but on the contrary as profoundly humane as it is far-sighted ... The resettlement of a substantial proportion of the Commonwealth immigrants in Britain is not beyond the resources and abilities of this country, if it is undertaken as a national duty …. organized now on the scale which the urgency of the situation demands, preferably under a special Ministry for Repatriation or other authority charged with concentrating on this task".

And Powell gave perhaps his most chilling expression of what constituted a people and a national polity, when admitting that his project was already a reactionary one in 1968.

"We can perhaps not reduce the eventual total of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population, much, if at all, below its present size: with that, and with all that implies, we and our children and our children’s children will have to cope until the slow mercy of the years absorbs even that unparalleled invasion of our body politic".

It is quite clear that this cultural essentialism is foundational to Powell's understanding of both citizenship and national independence. Having been a romantic Imperialist, turned after the loss of India to a distinctively English (and not British) account of a nation which had "come home again from many years of distant wandering".

Nor could Hannan - with his extravagant love of the United States - share Powell's pessimism about the inevitable tragedy of any liberal multi-ethnic societies,

Time is running against us and them. With the lapse of a generation or so we shall at last have succeeded – to the benefit of nobody – in reproducing ‘in England’s green and pleasant land’ the haunting tragedy of the United States"

This reflected Powell's lifelong antagonism towards the US, a once popular British right-wing tradition which has now almost entirely vanished. Indeed, Powell once answered the question of whether he was anti-American by saying "most people are. The only difference is that it has become a term of abuse".

Still, despite these differences, there may be other reasons why Hannan might take Enoch Powell as a model.

After all, Powell must be one of very few practicing politicians who could praise Margaret Thatcher for her skills in the art of political compromise, telling the Sunday Times in 1989 "her remarkable characteristic, which stamps her as a superb politician, is her ability to put up with things and go along with them, even though she doesn't agree with them, until the time comes when they can be dealt with. Now, not possessing that quality myself ... I admire this". (Also quoted in Heffer).

So, unless we were to find Hannan becoming similarly (but uncharacteristically) as moderate as Maggie, it will surely make sense to distinguish this 'wet' Thatcherism, which still dominate the modern Conservative party, from the true believers in the principled creed which is becoming known as Hannanism.


Nick said...

Have to say, I called it.

Though Bruce Anderson pretty much tipped us off that a qualified (i.e. post-74) 'Enoch was right' moment was just around the corner from Hannan-man.

(Doing it on Reason, to the American libertarian crowd, though? That's definitely venue-shopping, knowing that he's talking to people who aren't sufficiently well-versed to follow up, while tweaking the Cameroonians.)

Newmania said...

Nice opening paragraph Sunder the sort of thing I really enjoy about your work .Its all down hill form there though.
You are trying to suggest that a Euro sceptic and or Nationalist must by necessity be a racist aren’t you . I doubt you will be dissuaded from this venerable hobby but I think when you run like starving rat up any drainpipe in the hope of sniffing out racism inherent in Conservatism you must define your own position a little better .

“"The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still “...
Well does he ? Is this what Englishness is to you , a stamp and a form ?
Should British people have British jobs or not and if so why ?
Should housing shortages for British be a reason for curbing immigration or not ?
Is there any limit to immigration you would not applaud ?
Do you accept there is any such thing as England beyond the scrap of land ?
Do you believe there is any such people as the English ?
Is there anything about the English culture at all you think is worth preserving or will any alternative that rolls in do as well ?
If there is no Nation on what basis I am asked to pay taxes for the purposes of redistribution to my less fortunate country men . Who are they to me ?

You see Sunder I am more than happy to debate with you the utility and spiritual value of a Nation and its people and how it should be compromised when other claims are prevalent . I suspect however you have no higher purpose than to slur Conservatives with a presumed spectrum between Genocide and loyalty /continuity. You are right to identify a tension between Liberalism and Conservatism but hardly the first.
How will you reconcile the tension between national collectivism and international socialism not to say actually seeking to dismantle the Nation as an imagined community at all.
That problem is why the BNP take Labour votes , why Labour run racist campaigns in Crewe ( which you shamefully shut up about ) and why Brown spouts crap about ‘Britain’ whilst selling its sovereignty colluding in its disintegration and hastening the process by which the English become strangers in their own country obliged to apologise for being there at all.

Lets have some cards on the table Sunder

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks, No I am certainly not trying to do that and I don't think it is a fair reading of this post.

I make pretty clear in this post that I understand Hannan's views on race to be liberal, and that this does not seem to me a 'dog whistle', though I thought the broader issue of the Powellite view of national independence is an interesting subject.

And if you read the earlier post on Farage, on which a good deal of this one is based, I go to some lengths to separate the two, and to make clear that I think a non-Powellite Eurosceptic project does not entail extremism or racism.

"Farage is a Eurosceptic, not an extremist. And I am not sure this is best explained as the politics of the "dog whistle" either. In his interview with Iain Dale, Farage talks of rebuilding his party around libertarian principles and is candid about an entryist threat from the BNP which he is determined to face down .... Powell’s was a vision of the nation which could not be rescued by mere withdrawal from the European Union. If Nigel Farage is serious about a positive future vision of Euroscepticism, he will need a different guide than Enoch Powell".

But I agree that the sovereignty argument (made by Powell, Michael Foot and others) can be disentangled from this particular idea of the nation. However, I do think any Eurosceptic will end up in in reactionary territory were they to take Powell seriously as a prophet on the substance of what 'national independence' means, not least because this was already a self-professed reactionary project in 1968 (with Powell believing the British Nationality Act of 1948 was the root of all of our troubles).

On the substantive questions, I would take a social democratic view of immigration, not a liberal or libertarian one. That means the domestic social consequences, such as the impact on inequality, would be an important factor, and I think managed migration with a policy of integration and citizenship is important, as I have often argued.

However, I think Powell's essentialism is a good part of the reason why much of the right was actually rather weak on integration (as opposed to restricting immigration) as important to race relations across the 1960s and 1970s.

I am English and British, and do feel extremely attached to much of the culture and traditions of England: including in my case, to pick just a handful off the top of my head, Test cricket, George Orwell, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, the FA Cup (the 3rd round in particular), the national trust and the national gallery, theatre, music though less the classics for me than the Beatles and indie pop, our great cities (Liverpool in particular), The Guardian and The Observer and our somewhat unique press.

I would like to see so many of these things extended and preserved - for example, lets put Test cricket back on terrestrial TV. And the radical left traditions of the Levellers, Fabians, Liberty, non-conformism, the Liberal and Labour parties have deep English roots, of course, though I appreciate there are many other complementary and competing Englishnesses, liberal, conservative and other traditions, around the CofE, the Monarchy, the Daily Mail and many other things which are part of the national furniture.

I think Britishness and (to an understated extent, Englishness too) have proved rather more durable than many of their advocates fear. English literature has been enormously enriched by the new Commonwealth writing, and I don't think its traditional virtues have been lost in the process.

Newmania said...

It is kind of you to clarify what you did ‘not’ mean by your choice of subject ,ie a tiny reference to Enoch Powell by a Conservative MEP whilst in America .Perhaps leaving it altogether would have conveyed the prodigious absence of intention even better ....  The Kaiser was of course much attached to and impressed by English culture and while this is part of the thing it is not the thing itself .Loyalty counts , a thing you have traduced by calling it ‘blood and soil’ so as to stress Germanic versions of Nation (for the usual obvious reasons ). I think the word “Home” conveys the spirit better. A country is a home and in some sense it is home to a ‘people’ who are own it. When we say “Our country” all these unremarkable assumptions are understood . I do not detect that you share this almost universal feeling we have had cause to be grateful for it in the past
Now I like cheese and onion crisps Shakira`s new video and people-falling-over , but my loyalties are to my family friends and a network outwards expressed as the Nation . Some of them I cannot stand I kid you not. Nothing you say admits there is such a thing as an English people or that is has any special place in England or any greater call on the English than anyone else . In fact any suggestion you regard as covert racism. This is why the working-class alliance with middleclass ‘progressives’ is fracturing to my barely disguised glee. ....

Some of what you say sounds reasonable

Nick said...

The essentialist argument has long been problematic, too, given the way in which the colonial experience created so many different strains of British- and Englishness that have filtered back into the home country's national identity, while being products of somewhere else. Some have come through repatriation -- Orwell's five years in Burma a good example -- and others through immigration.

(As an expat, I'm more than exposed to that phenomenon: depending on the context, there's a tendency either to assimilate, or become a gin-sipping -- or bitter-drinking -- amplification of the Englishman abroad.)

Powell ended up in semi-exile among the Unionists in NI, the most British community in terms of self-identification in the entire UK. I don't think that's tangential to his career. Nor is it tangential that Hannan enjoys the spotlight in Brussels and particularly the US. There are a fair few Thatcherites in exile there, and other commentators (Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens) whose British origins differentiate them from the crowd, but who'd probably find it tricky to reintegrate their political positions in the mother country.

You could also point to John Derbyshire, who perpetuates on American soil a Blimpishness that's fading even from the letters page of the Telegraph.

Newmania: nothing you say suggests that your definition is anything other than a tightly-circumscribed (and frankly tight-fisted) definition of Englishness, and one that's more parochial than national in its sensibility. I notice that your profile locates you somewhere primarily known for "exploding the Pope" on November 5th, a most English tradition indeed, albeit one that is considered somewhat alien only a couple of hundred miles to the north.

Sunder Katwala said...

Holgate -just to say that thought about exile is a very interesting one.

Newmania - While we clearly disagree, I want to point out the danger that we might fine some common ground.

Powell's sense of nation is in one sense certainly unrecoverable, because he posited a specific exclusivity which was not being maintained. To use his provocative language, that funeral pyre had been lit. One can not do much with the ashes now; nor could one honestly attempt to reverse it in 1968. Where I think Powell was wrong, and perhaps where we disagree, is that I think England endures. You suggest it does not do so authentically. But if you really thought so, why should we be arguing about it now? So some do have a sense of tragic loss, of dispossession, of the end of a thousand years of history when we joined the EEC or because of the presence of the descendants of immigrants.
I am not nearly myself so sure what of the essence of the England of 1880 or 1930 or 1960 has evaoporated from the land. The link to "1966 and all that" certainly remains, and I am not so sure those to 1945 and 1066 indeed do not too. Won't the next Coronation ceremony feel like a very English [British] occasion?

Here, though, is the common ground. I don't think I wrote "blood and soil". Indeed, David Marquand says something v.interesting about this in writing about Powell's 1961 St George's Day lecture in his 'Britain since 1918' (which ultimately argues that Powell's myth of England took Englishness out of play).

"The myth left one nagging question unanswered. Who were the English? Was England's nationhood essentially ethnic, like those of Germany or Ireland? Or was it civic, like those of France and the United States. Powell did not answer that question directly, but the tentative outlines of an answer bloom through the lines of his beautifully crafted though ambiguous rhetoric. Powell's was a nationalism of soil, not of blood - not suprisingly, as he was himself partly Welsh by descent. But it was even more a nationalism of memory and allegiance ..."

Soil and land has definitely been a resonant part of Englishness. If it was not so much soil as memory and allegiance, then these remain. I could go with memory and allegiance, but would say that they can not be defined as narrowly or exclusively as Powell once did. This is Orwell's central argument. England transformed is still unmistakably England. And I feel you can only, finally, deny it by defining allegiance too tightly so as to dispossess large parts of the native, authentic England too. Which is rather un-English, as it happens, for there have always been overlapping Englands - a Monarchical and republican England, a proud Tory and a dissenting tradition, rural and urban Englishnesses, and so on, each communities of memory and allegiance which form part of the larger whole.

I am certanly part of many English imagined communities - sporting, political, literary, cultural, regional - including that (underarticulated, undefined ) sense of the English people themselves. Isn't that why one picks over the history - and wishes more people knew enough to talk over it too.

So, yes, there is an English people. And I think i must be part of it. Are being abroad with the short-wave radio and the World Service with test match special or the second half commentary just the outward trappings, as you suggest. Or are they the outward trappings of the full and equal membership of a social, national and political community.

Newmania said...

Holgate I did not offer any definition of Englishness .I only suggested that such at thing might be allowed to exist at all . My purpose is to point out that the dishonesty of the anti Nationalist position .A position that keeps itself well hidden when trying to get the working class vote out . I felt this to be a reasonable response to Sunder’s hastily retracted implications regarding Enoch Powell and the presumably dark heart of Conservatism

Sunder -Englishness endures despite the ongoing assaults from the political class the left and the unwanted and undemocratic settlement by foreign communities of various sorts at historically astonishing speed .Similarly marriage survives the great strains put upon it by , housing costs et al and tax incentives to remain single .The pub survives despite the unwanted interference of Caroline Flint and her infantilising bossiness . Parliament just about survives despite assault on all fronts especially “Post democrats” like New Labours grand vizier . All of this is despite of , and not because of the zealotry of the “Progressive “ and their elitist disdain for loyalty usually called ”Prejudice “. Some of this was natural ,change of course but much of it s deliberate strategy . This must be resisted without recourse to un English intolerance or extremism .
Its is an amusing parlour game to ask who are the English but to claim that the moment Somalis get citizenship we have to include Cambuulo and azuki beans is not one I can take seriously. The English language is complex changing dialectal and includes most of the French and all of the Latin vocabulary .and so on . Somehow I still manage to understand it recognise it and discriminate between it and …Jingpho-Konyak-Bodo( well I think so anyway).Not so hard is it ?
I and the majority are not befuddled by the pretence that this is all to difficult for our weak minds . We want immigration moderated. We want it clear , not hidden and a rebalancing away from the deeply unpopular state sponsored multiculturalism which makes an assault on Englishness its avowed aim and taxes us for the purpose. This might take the form of reasonable a pressure over time not a crusade or an obsession trumping all other concerns .After a decade of dishonesty I think we have a right to transparent numbers and to have our representatives take note of our concerns without fielding accusations of barely concealed Nazism flung by thugs and bullies .

As to your own “identity “ that would make an excellent subject for your first book.. Speaking of books allow me to mention that if you think the New Commonwealth has had profound and enriching influence on English Literature I have clearly missed some important work. Where is this un known TS Elliot , this Pinter , this HG Wells , RL Stevenson , Dickens this Donne , Coleridge Hardy Austen Kipling or even a good yarn ? Do tell , ( I think a sense of proportion may be lacking in your judgement old fruit )

Charlie Marks said...

Might I point out that it was Powell who encouraged immigration from the Commonwealth countries when he was a minister in govt in the 60s?

He was also strongly opposed to trade unions on tort grounds. And strongly for privatisation and ending the post-war consensus on a mixed economy, full employment, etc.

This is what we need to be raising with regards Hannan - the Tories are dying to help out their big business brothers and sisters in the City, not look our for working people across the country.

Nick said...

In that case, Newmania, I worry that you're arguing with "anti-Nationalist" strawmen.

All I'll say is that Englishness isn't anyone's personal fiefdom, nor anyone in particular's gift to bestow. If you do want to wrap it in cling-flim, the Telegraph expats section will provide plenty of guidance.

I'm reminded of Simon Schama (himself a long-time expat) ending his History of Britain on the BBC by talking about "the two Winstons" (Churchill and Smith) as a way to map 20th century British history, with the impulses of Orwell and Churchill towards empire, formed at home and abroad, reflecting back on the mother country.

Picking up on Sunder's last comment, I'm also reminded of Harry Pearson, a somewhat less eminent writer, on living in the 'far corner' of England. As a child, he saw a picture in an encyclopaedia titled "An Everyday Village Scene", with thatched cottages, a duck pond, a cricket match on the village green: John Major's rural idyll. But it wasn't like his village at all. Later in life, he went to Sonning-on-Thames, and realised that this was the kind of village where the photograph was taken: 'This was England. England, their England. It wasn't like the North-East at all.'

I think that sense of England being every-so-slightly elsewhere is itself a part of Englishness, and not just in the far corners.

(By the way: you do know that TS Eliot was an immigrant, right? It takes an outsider's view to write "History is now and England.")

Newmania said...

In that case, Newmania, I worry that you're arguing with "anti-Nationalist" strawmen.

Holgate What we used to call “History “ has been replaced by a subject more properly called “Nazi Germany” or better still ,”The peculiar evil of right wing politics “. That supposed evil begins the very second you assert there are some people who are English and some who are either not or less so not whether or not they live here. I wonder if Sunder could bring himself to agree with that or not , can you ?
Ziauddin Sardar in todays Guardian is complaining about the country lacking mutual comprehension because some English people who are not Muslims are insufficiently steeped in the Qu ‘ran and thus distanced from equally English Muslims. Such a broad definition renders the people non existent and the word meaningless. Such a definition renders any concern about immigration potentially racist when in fact it is the simple, desire to retain the English character of our country.

That is precisely the wish of the anti nationalist left with the usual tactic of shutting down opinion outside their own. Meanwhile the Telegraph reports that the population is 61,000,000 driven largely immigration and the high birth rate of immigrant mothers accounting for half the growth. It is the rate that is the worry its far too fast.

Sunder and you, I suppose , think that you can add new loyalties without destroying the old . Try suggesting to your wife that your marriage would be profoundly enriched were you to express a competing wish to have sex with another woman sometimes. More is sometimes worse , wider is often shallower ,incoherence usually brutalising and the alacrity with which labour |MPs snatch their own children form schools struggling with eight languages shows that none of this is a hopelessly nebulous when its your own. Billy Bragg is a great one for all that leveller stuff but then he moved to all white Dorset.
Major`s idyll was in fact Orwell`s and quoted more or less by Sunder above despite being roundly condemned by the left at the time . I am of the opinion that Orwell was a Conservative in all but name by his death and TS Elliot is my favourite poet whose history ( the opposite of Audens , who took US citizenship) I am well aware of . Should you wish to deepen your understanding of Tradition and change I can recommend no better starting point than “Tradition and Individual talent “ by TS Elliot .

All in all I think I am making some progress here and with the coming often Primaries I relish this discussion happening in the open . Previously it has taken place only amongst New Labour elites parachuted onto Working class constituencies who hold views far more along communitarian lines I do than the representatives Middleclass progressives inflict on them.

Tomorrow belongs to me , you might say ( I `m kidding ! )