The Independent Archive 7 September 1989: The lurid vision of a false prophet

Enoch Powell has pronounced that 1992 will be a year of great decision for the British people. Peter Jenkins takes issue with him
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IT HAS been Enoch Powell's way to press arguments to absurd ends, one of the marks of an extremist. His own career as a politician finished absurdly, with the ex-Member for Wolverhampton representing the Ulster Unionists at Westminster and eventually losing his seat. Splendidly eccentric that he may be thought, and a kindly man in private to be sure, he has been a false and sometimes irresponsible prophet. The Tiber has not foamed with blood, nor is Britain ruled from Brussels, Washington or Dublin.

Now, in a new book, Enoch Powell on 1992, which he launched yesterday with a public speech, he tells the British people that a great decision faces them in 1992. They must decide "who and what they are and intend to be". This by repudiating the "bid to create a single centralised political power" which, he insists, has nothing to do with the creation of a single European market.

In 1974, with Labour then pledged to renegotiate the terms of British EC membership or campaign in a referendum for a mandate to leave, Mr Powell abandoned his party, and his seat in Parliament, and urged all those who thought like him to vote Labour. But Labour let him down and "reneged on the plain meaning of [its] election manifesto". Today, as he sees it, the electorate has another opportunity, this time with the party positions reversed. In Bruges a year ago, Margaret Thatcher committed her party to a Europe based on "co- operation between independent sovereign states". The Labour Party, for its part, has espoused the concept of "Social Europe". Ergo, concludes Mr Powell, the next general election will at long last provide the opportunity to "secure the national verdict upon Britain's future independence as a self-governing parliamentary democracy".

Well, up to a point Enoch. If the next Conservative Party manifesto echoes the terms and tone of the Bruges speech it will still provide no mandate for the repeal of the Single European Act of 1985 or call back the powers delegated by the European Communities Act of 1972 which Mr Powell, in his extravagant way, regards as having forfeited Britain's status as an independent sovereign state. After 1992 Britain will continue, as other nations, to assert its national interest within the evolving institutions of the European Community which enable some decisions to be taken by qualified majority votes in the Council of Ministers.

To present Labour as having become the "European" party, in the sense of becoming an agent of political union, is a typically Powellite hyperbole. Labour has backed half-heartedly into Europe for fear of losing votes as the anti-European party which it was. Indeed, the next general election looks likely to be fought on the basis of a broader consensus between the parties on Europe than at any time since the foundation of the Common Market. Membership will no longer be at issue but both parties will be reluctant travellers down the road to economic and monetary union. Europe will be more of an issue within parties than between them.

Mr Powell's case really depends upon persuading people that 1992 is a federalistic project. But this is not the view taken by the mainstream of the Conservative Party. Nineteen ninety-two, says Mr Powell, is "a pretext for the will to power and the will to political unification". But this is another of his exaggerations. For some it may be so but it does not follow that they will succeed. Monetary co-operation within the framework of the European Monetary System might lead some way towards a common currency, or economic union, but - as Nigel Lawson has argued - there is no logic which says that it has to.

It is probably true that the British people, for the most part, will remain loath to travel down the road to economic and monetary union, but that does not mean that they will wish to see Britain stand aside, or be pushed aside, from further developments in the European Community. The year 1992 requires of them no such stark or momentous choice. They seem less inclined today than ever to see the matter in the lurid terms in which Mr Powell chooses to present it.

From `The Independent', Thursday 7 September 1989