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on 3 June 2015
Although he died in 1998 Enoch Powell is still to some extent a political figure who still arouses passions, both for those who admire him, as Simon Heffer does, and for those who remember him as a sinister influence in our political life. I should declare a personal interest in that for a short period of time, which included his “rivers of blood” speech, I was briefly a constituent of his, and that my political views have never been at all similar to his.

While he was a Tory (which, while a critical epithet for some, is used by others as a compliment) it is interesting that his friends included Michael Foot, and Tony Benn. It would have been more interesting if Simon Heffer had written about the basis of these friendships as it would probably have helped in more fully understanding Powell both as a person and as a politician.

The positive aspect of Powell’s reputation rests on what is represented as his capacity to argue logically and lead to conclusions of a profundity which was seen as unique to him. I disagree.

Before going into detail there is a preliminary point. If you read Powell’s own words, and even more so if you remember him speaking, I think that it is quite clear that he wrote and spoke with great emotional conviction. The problem this leads to is that we all tend to be persuaded by emotion, often more so than by reason. While I would not claim that Powell deliberately spoke in this way so as to mislead, we can think of more recent politicians who did, and who persuaded many others, who suspended their more rational judgements. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair stand as two examples, and it is also interesting that they like Powell polarised opinion. It is interesting that their example is now followed by most British people who would be political leaders

In considering Powell’s reputation the first problem is that logical arguments do not necessarily lead to true conclusions. If the premises are false the conclusion will be false irrespective of the quality of the logic. The syllogism “Paris is in France, France is in Europe, therefore Paris is in Europe” leads to a true conclusion because the logic is correct and the two premises are also true. But if you substitute for the second premise “France is in America” this logically leads to the false conclusion “therefore Paris is in America”.

I want to analyse one example which I contend illustrates this, and which stands for many others.

Heffer writes: “Powell started a new religious controversy … when … about the possibilities of a papal visit to Britain. He argued there had been no discussion of the implications of such a visit, and there should be … (and) if in the light of it a substantial body of opinion felt it would be better for the Pope not to come, these views should be respected. He stressed that religion had nothing to do with his objection, it was a political issue. The Pope was a head of state and if he came to Britain it would be as a result of a political decision taken by the Government.
There would be, he said, an “English nerve” touched by the visit, because only in England was the Crown supreme judicial authority in the national church. From this, he concluded that “it is constitutionally and logically unthinkable for England to contain both the Queen and the Pope. Before that could happen the essential character of the one or the other would have to be surrendered.” It was, for Powell, a question of the surrender of yet another national symbol, the last possessions of a nation, without which it cannot renew itself.

Although this has the appearance of a closely argued opinion containing a serious point it is not at all clear quite what that point might be, nor how it is properly arrived at.

Firstly, quite what is meant by saying that the “Crown … (is). the supreme judicial authority in the national church”? (My underlining.)

The Shorter OED has five definitions of “judicial” when used as an adjective, which is how Powell appears to be using it:

i. “pertaining to proceedings in a court of law”,
ii. “pertaining to the judgement of the reputed influence of the celestial objects on human affairs”;
iii “that has or shows sound judgement, judicious”;
iv. “having the function of judgement; invested with authority to judge causes”;
v. “of a judge; proper to a judge”.

None appear to be any kind of “authority” which is held by the Crown, and so we are left to wonder quite what Powell meant. The simplest conclusion would be that he uses a word whose meanings, with two exceptions, relate directly to the legal process, so as to add what is sometimes called “gravitas” to his argument. The reader, or listener, is invited to accede to the judgement of one who claims greater understanding and judgement.

It is also quite unclear what he means by stating that it is “constitutionally and logically unthinkable for England to contain both the Queen and the Pope. Before that could happen the essential character of the one or the other would have to be surrendered.” One possible thought might be that he sees the Pope as the supreme judicial authority in the Catholic Church, (which may be so) but this is hardly adequate, as even if this were so it is not obvious why should this lead to the conclusion that it “unthinkable for England to contain both the Queen and the Pope”, and further again why are the purported reasons for this are “constitutional and logical”. A possible explanation would again be that they add “gravitas”. A further thought might be that the emperor’s apparently impressive clothes do not exist but we are invited not to object for fear of being criticised as stupid for not appreciating their splendour.

A Pope has visited England since and I do not recall it being a “political decision”. The Pope may well be, albeit technically, a head of state, but although it would be understandable if the government had openly or tacitly assented to a visit that could have been seen as controversial, I think that the Pope was invited by the Catholic Church in England,. While there were people who objected to the visit it passed off peacefully, without any of the consequences warned of by Powell.

The difficulty for people whose warnings are expressed as predictions is that they are tested by later events, which may validate or refute them. A further and more significant example is Powell on immigration. (In what follows I will for the sake of the argument temporarily allow Powell’s claim that he was not racist.)

After the riots in Brixton and Toxteth, which were serious and worrying, Heffer states that Powell also “pressed on, predicting inner London becoming ungovernable … (through) violence which could only effectually be described as civil war’” and Powell discounted what he regarded as the prevailing mentality ‘that it was ‘too late to do anything’.

We now know that each part of this statement proved to be untrue.


After giving an account of his earlier, pre-political life Heffer is almost solely concerned with the public figure, and we have relatively little about Powell the man. However, what little there is is intriguing. He appears to have had a strong relationship with both of his parents, and appears to have only two significant relations with women. The second was his wife who he married when he was 39, and she 26. This appears to have been a very happy marriage, and without wishing to be cynical she must have been very tolerant, as any political wife would need to be.

His only other relationship with a woman petered out, and to his great chagrin she married someone else, and while invited to the wedding he declined. Heffer is not explicit but reading between the lines they did not have any sexual relationship.

Powell’s ex cathedra statements include that all political careers end in failure. Powell clearly had great qualities. He was a professor of Greek at Cambridge in his early twenties, and became a Brigadier in the army also at a very early age, after having joined up as a Private. Yet despite his great gifts Powell only held office in government for a very brief period, and if this is a relevant measure it might be said that his career ended in failure much earlier.

Heffer’s book is worth reading, both for an account of Enoch Powell, and as one who set out to praise one who is sometimes seen as a Caesar, but who inferentially buries him.
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on 14 June 2017
Not as described
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on 25 April 2010
Like the Roman by Simon Heffer is a very interesting biography of a man who only held office for a few years in his career but is one of the most influential and well-remembered figures in late 20th century Britian. He is most famous for his Rivers of Blood speech which made him both a much loved and much loathed figure but this biography shows that he was much more than one speech. It shows a man who was an academic genius, a poet, a brigadier, a professor, a man dominated by a cold logic but also a romanticism and a man of principle and ideas who was expounding the economic theory of the 1980s decades before. All in all it is a very good book if a little long and perhaps a bit biased but it shows the man beyond the public caricatures.
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on 11 June 2017
I am on the left, but regard Powell as a giant intellectually and politically. Today there are no giants, just political hypocrisy, and mediocrity.
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on 3 December 2002
Enoch Powell remains one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th Century British political scene: outspoken and forthright, a man of integrity, ever constroversial. As such, a figure suitable for a lengthy and in-depth tome. And in many ways, Heffer has produced a passable biography. However, as a long-standing friend, Daily Mail journalist Heffer could surely have delved deeper into the motivations for and reasoning behind Powell's speeches on race and on economics (his thinking on economic policy formed the basis for Thatcherism), rather than focusing primarily on Powell as a politician. The inevitable centring on Powell's 1968 'Rivers of Blood' speech (from which the book borrows its title) actually works well, but Heffer's style often grates, and he distracts from his subject by frequently going into depth where he needn't, at other times neglecting to study further apparently important concerns regarding Powell's life. He also appears obsessed with Powell's sexuality in the early stages of the book. A good read (and apparently well-researched) in many ways then, but this is probably more a result of the subject's fascinating life than the author's contributions. Worth a look.
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on 23 June 2009
I bought the Paperback, mistake, not the right format for a thousand page book with some 33 pages of important notes.

It appeared to have been (very badly) printed in China(?).

Some pages were angled; on others text was missing.

Amazon's excellent returns system sorted this out, and I bought
the Hardback as I should have done from the start.

That apart, good read on a complex flawed character who with deep irony helped create the bloated public sector with it's cushioned pensions scheme.
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on 7 May 2014
A remarkable book about a remarkable man. Enoch Powell was an outstandingly clever person and, unlike many academics, appeared to relish the rough and tumble of political life. Liberals, left-wingers indeed, would not approve many of his views then , or now, in this sad politically correct age. Simon Heffer does Mr Powell and his times great credit in what must have been a hugely time-consuming work. Simply, well done on all counts, politician and author. John Mason.
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on 17 August 2003
Having had a high regard for Enoch Powel despite being as far from him in political terms as it is possible to get it did not surprise me to find from this book that he was also regarded the same way by many of his political opponents.
He and Tony Benn were two sides of the same coin - alas extinct in modern politics - honourable, intelligent men and real politicians.
Simon Heffer's excellent biography is not to be started lightly but once commenced is difficult to put down. It captures the man from his speeches, writing and broadcasting and, for one who lived through the era in question, brings it all back to mind.
Despite being uncritical about the correctness of Powell's economic theories the book lays out a fascinating study of a great man.
Anyone who harbours the opinion that Enoch Powell was a racist will be sadly disabused if they read this.
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on 29 April 2003
Enoch Powell was many things to many people; not least because he was many things. An esteemed academic, Powell was the authority on Greek language and literature - a master scholar; a genius.
To the ill-informed, he was, above all a racist and a fascist. It is only when one realises that he staked his life, with millions of others, in the defence of democracy and the defeat of Nazism in World War II, that it is possible to see just how wrong this perecption is.
This book chronicles Powell's life from his unremarkable uprbringing in the West Midlands, through a highly remarkable academic career, a distinguished service of Britain in her Armed Forces, through to his time in Paliament as a Tory, Ulster Unionist, and elder statesman.
Two minor criticisms would be that there is simply too much detail, especially of Parliamentary exchanges, that is too procedural, and too impersonal, and that, secondly, too little emphasis is given to his later years and an analysis of his political legacy.
Certainly, this book is far too detailed for the casual reader: if you merely want an overview of Powell's life, his motivations, his impact, this is not it. As an 18 year old Conservative, this book was both fascinating and surprising. The fact that I expected not to be impressed with a man labelled 'racist', 'fascist', 'out-dated' etc., perhaps bears testament to Powell's dire predictions of the rise of the Political Correct classes' influence. I certainly was impressed, and anyone bringing a remotely Conservative mind - or, I suggest, open mind - to this book would struggle to be otherwise.
Powell is undoubtedly best-known for his 'Rivers of Blood' speech. The scourge of the Left, the hate figure of the race relations industry, Powell predicted apocalyptic consequences of an open-house immigration policy. It will, again, surprise many that he didn't even use the phrase 'rivers of blood' in this, or any other speech. He warned, with justification, that mass-immigration was risky; his warnings resound today as greatly as ever.
Simon Heffer is undoubtedly sympathetic to Powell. The author savages the liberal elite on Powell's posthumous behalf, sympathising with his bitter dislike of so-called Conservative like Ted Heath, but this is by no means sycophantic.
That he is remembered as a one-issue crusader is unfortunate. Powell understood how economies work thirty years before the Conservative Party. He invented monetarism and set out the principles of Thatcherism decades before Britain had its first female PM.
He was an arch-capitalist, defender of the Union, and opponent of a federal Europe. His views are held now, almost in their entirety, by mainstream Conservatives, whilst the ex-PM Margaret Thatcher openly cites his as a major influence. His economic analyses are shared by politicians of all colours today, his concern for immigration by the mass of the population, and his Euro-scepticism by the majority of 'Europeans'.
When he died, a floral tribute placed outside read simply "You were right". I suspect Heffer agrees with this, but he is not blinded by his personal affection for a great soldier, academic, poet, philosopher, and politician.
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on 20 May 2001
Enoch Powell is one of the more fascinating, enigmatic characters of 20th century politics. He was a leading, original and a fearless thinker, a setter of some trends and, for a politician, remarkably true to his beliefs. The author had access to his papers and, until his death, access to Powell himself. It is a grand attempt at the definitive work on an important subject. Almost 1,000 pages! So what's wrong? Perhaps the author himself was as intimidated by his subject as many of Powell's contemporaties were. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by the documentary material available to him. Perhaps the author himself is as "uptight" as his subject. Whatever the reason, this biography falls short of its promise. While it exhaustively anthologises Powell's parliamentary interventions, it rarely manages to get behind the facade into the person. There was a humanity about Powell, but we don't learn much about it from Like the Roman. The result is an often ponderous anthology of speeches, slow-moving and repetitive of subject. The few times it picks up pace and allows the reader to relate to the subject are when Powell is not in Parliament and when, all too rarely, it covers incidents and anecdotes as well as the formally delivered words. When it talks to people who knew Powell and experienced some aspect of the person. Humans inter-acting with each other. A new MP who finds himself sitting in "Powell's seat" in the Commons library, to Powell's discomfort, gains and offers an insight into the human being that is offered all too rarely by Simon Heffer. Was Simon Heffer intimidated by Powell? Was he overwhelmed by the documentary resources available to him? Was he an acolyte too enamoured to be objective? Maybe that should be the subject of academic study into the nature of biography. One hopes that someone else with an eye and an ear for the human attempts the definitive biography of Powell whilst there are still people around who knew him.
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