MPs and clergy clash over Powell lying in state

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The Independent Online
CONTROVERSIAL to the last, Enoch Powell sparked his final political row yesterday as leading churchmen questioned his right to lie in state in Westminster Abbey.

Mr Powell, who died last week, aged 85, was a warden of the nearby church of St Margaret's Westminster for almost 10 years. He will rest in the cathedral overnight tomorrow before his funeral on Wednesday.

Church authorities said they would afford the same honour to any regular worshipper, but the Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Wilfred Wood, said the move would give the politician a status he did not deserve.

Mr Powell had given respectability to racism with his attacks on the Black community, in particular with the1968 speech in which he spoke of immigration leading to "rivers of blood."

Other leading figures in the Church of England supported Bishop Wood's view, but he was attacked by a number of Mr Powell's friends for displaying a lack of Christian charity.

Bishop Wood told the BBC's Sunday programme that the politician had damaged good race relations.

"I speak from within the black community and they know the fear that was generated among very vulnerable people as a result of Powell's ranting. The truth is that attempts to create a disciplined multi-ethnic society have been seriously undermined by his attacks on the black community," he said.

Lord Coggan, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, gave support to his views. "Anything that would exacerbate the memory of that speech is to be regretted," he said. Dr Tom Butler, the Bishop of Leicester, added that the decision to have the body resting in the Abbey overnight could upset ethnic minorities.

However, Conservative MPs rose to defend their former colleague, who later became an Ulster Unionist. Sir Patrick Cormack, MP for Staffordshire South who will deliver an address at the funeral, said: "These clergymen have shown a singular lack of Christian charity and a bigoted narrowness. It makes one very said that they should have done this at a time of sombre grief for Mr Powell's family." Ann Winterton, Tory MP for Congleton, also attacked the criticism as "absolute rubbish".

Mr Powell had been a distinguished Parliamentarian for 38 years, she said."I would have thought these people should have been praying for the repose of his soul rather than dragging up these issues. I utterly condemn these churchmen who have shown such a lack of Christian charity."

Mr Powell was sacked from the shadow cabinet by Edward Heath after making his "Rivers of Blood" speech. He won admiration from many on the right of his party, though, and even after he became a Unionist he was an inspiration as well as an embarrassment to Margaret Thatcher.

After his death, she said there would never be anyone so compelling. "He was magnetic ... he was one of those rare people who made a difference and whose moral compass led us in the right direction," she said.

A Communion service will be held at Westminster Abbey on Wednesday morning. A service will take place later at St Margaret's, followed by a service in Warwick, where the body will be buried.