Britain’s media was shocked today after it emerged that UKIP attempted to win the support of a man described by Margaret Thatcher as “the best parliamentarian I ever knew”. The Telegraph reports that, in the early years of UKIP, Nigel Farage courted veteran Conservative and Ulster Unionist politician Enoch Powell in the hope he would stand for the party in various elections.
Powell was a veteran free-market conservative who was seen as one of the first Thatcherites – before even Thatcher herself – however he became a hate figure on the British left after giving a speech opposing mass immigration.
His 1968 speech, dubbed “Rivers of Blood”, warned that large-scale immigration would lead to social tensions and resentment from Britain’s white population. The speech caused considerable controversy due to the fact he quoted letters from various constituents who alleged, sometimes with intemperate language, that immigration was changing their neighbourhoods forever.
Powell was educated at Cambridge, where he gained a double starred first, before becoming a professor of Greek at the age of 25. He then joined the British army at the outbreak of World War II, rising from the rank of private to brigadier during the course of the war.
After the war, he joined the Conservative Party and became MP for Wolverhampton South West. He soon gained a reputation as an outspoken economic and constitutional conservative, resigning from Harold Macmillan’s government over plans increase public spending. At the time, his free market principles were seen as extreme and unworkable, although they later became official Conservative Party policy under Margaret Thatcher.
Also, significantly for UKIP, Powell was one of the first Tory Eurosceptics, opposing Britain’s membership of what was then the European Economic Community before it had even joined. After Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath took Britain into Europe, Powell resigned from the party, stood down as an MP and urged supporters to vote for the Labour Party, who were offering a referendum on Britain’s continued membership.
He was soon courted by the Ulster Unionist Party and quickly re-entered parliament as MP for South Down in Northern Ireland.
Powell finally left parliament in 1987 and, by the time UKIP courted him in the early 1990s, had retreated into retirement. According to letters unearthed in a university archive, Nigel Farage asked Enoch Powell to support his campaign in the 1994 Eastleigh by-election, although he declined. Powell also declined to stand for UKIP himself in 1994 European Parliament election and in the 1997 General Election.
He did, however, endorse three UKIP candidates for election to parliament between 1994 and 1997.
UKIP’s courting of Enoch Powell should not come as a surprise, given his fervent Euroscepticism and staunch conservative beliefs.
Nigel Farage himself has made no secret of his admiration for Powell, telling the Telegraph last month that while the “general point” of Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech was “absolutely right”, social tensions were not as bad as Powell had predicted, and the speech was also “misjudged” for effectively shutting down the immigration debate for three decades.
As UKIP has grown in popularity, in part from its focus on immigration, the left has tried to portray it as “racist”. The ability to link UKIP to Enoch Powell will no doubt be seized on by the left-wing media as further evidence to support their claim.