‘All political lives,” said the British politician Enoch Powell many years ago, “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.” It’s certainly the nature of politics in the Westminster system. Consider the dazzling Tony Blair of 1997, and the universally reviled “Bliar” of a decade later, skulking into premature retirement against his will and cursed as a warmongering Bush stooge who’d sold his soul and gotten nothing in return.
Powell himself spent the final third of his life as his own dictum’s ultimate cautionary tale. Asked in his twilight how he would wish to be remembered, he replied, “I should like to have been killed in the war,” which seems a tad gloomy even for him. Yet, upon his centenary this month, I found myself struck not for the first time by his relevance. Not because he got everything right, but because he got enough right of the things that almost everybody else got totally wrong and that haunt us still. Powell is little known in America, and his antipathy to the United States dated back at least as far as the 1943 Churchill-Roosevelt Casablanca summit, which he attended as a staff officer. Thereafter, he was never well disposed toward Uncle Sam, which avuncular epithet almost certainly never passed his oddly sculpted and forbidding lips: As he once conceded, he was “allergic” to “the things that are typically American.” This “allergy” was about all he had in common with his bête noire, the faux-Tory technocrat Euro-fetishist Edward Heath. On almost every other matter, Heath was wrong, and Powell was right.