Christopher Hitchens

Enoch Who Hurt Me So Dreadfully

The Lives of Enoch Powell


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If I say that I used to be very afraid of Enoch Powell, I think a certain proportion of Literary Review readers will guess what I mean. To be a socialist in the 1960s was to know that, even as the working class showed no affection for any return to Toryism, it did seem to be vulnerable to certain decided ideas about race and nation. The Labour and Liberal toffs never quite got this point, but serious socialists knew it very well. We would discuss it nervously and earnestly in the pub afterwards. I think we sort of hoped no-one would ever discover this secret weapon, which was as open as most secrets.

That might raise a smile, written as it is by someone who is a socialist in the eighties. But nobody who remembers that day in April 1968 is likely to miss my point. At a single blow, an entire consensus was broken. One might point out this or that – David Edgar in Maydays gets a good scene out of the coincidence that the speech was delivered on Hitler’s birthday – but the change in political landscape was more or less a geological one.

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