Guest Post by Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith is having his novel, ‘The Speech’ published this Autumn. He has written a guest post about Enoch Powell.
THE SPEECH, a novel
How I came to NOT hate Enoch Powell
As a student in the 1960s, I lived in the British Midlands town of Wolverhampton — in the riding for which Enoch Powell was Conservative member of parliament. Technicolor hadn’t long been invented, but my world, and that of most of my peers was black and white, cut and dried. An old person was anyone over 30, who was always wrong until proven otherwise. All police and most other authority figures were ‘pigs,’ and the only music worth listening to was that of the decade, with the exception of some earlier blues numbers and the occasional classical piece. Capitalism was a pariah, socialism was to be celebrated. So when Enoch Powell made a speech on April 20th, 1968 that was deemed rife with outrageous and unacceptable racism by people I and my peers respected — and known forever after as The Rivers of Blood speech — we fell over each other in the race to be the one to hate him most. But that was then.
Now, in the twenty-first century, the subject of immigration, the issue which sparked Powell’s 1968 speech, is a white-hot item once more. I decided to put Powell at the centre of a novel together with other characters from the period, fictional everyday people, as a way of looking at immigration in the hope that Powell’s and their stories might be pertinent to today’s events.
I started by reading the complete Rivers of Blood speech, uncertain if I’d actually read it back in 1968. (Only extracts can be heard, because only part was recorded.) There’s no doubt in my mind that Powell’s sentiments and statements ARE bigoted, intolerant, and misguided. But now that I’m mellower and, I hope, wiser (slightly ironic that this has come to pass in my sixth decade), I wondered how such an intellectually clever man had come to put forward such extreme and hate-mongering ideas — and orated them in such a bizarrely dramatic style.
I read every biography and book about Powell I could get my hands on, the writers being representative of the full spectrum of political ideology. I went to Churchill College, Cambridge, the repository of his papers, to pore over diaries, copies of other of his speeches, letters, etc. I talked to people who’d known Powell, and I made note of previously untold stories. I read copious newspaper cuttings of the time. I solicited reminiscences from friends and acquaintances of various skin colour, and I read accounts by an array of people — black and white — of their experiences before and after Powell delivered the speech. I revisited Wolverhampton to gaze at his old house, and I walked the pavements he would have walked.
I became as intimate as anybody can be with a person one has never met, which is considerable with Powell, given the voluminous records — public and personal. Slowly but surely, as I got to know this complicated, brilliant yet deeply flawed man, the hate and disdain I thought I felt as a young person morphed into simple understanding and even a degree of empathy. Not that I make any excuses for him. (He would certainly never have admitted his behaviour necessitated any excuse.) It’s clear he acted, to use one of his favourite words, in an ‘evil’ way. But I do hope the humanizing of Powell in a novel will lead readers to understand why he did what he did, and — just maybe — hold a less polarized, and polarizing, view of today’s world.
Visit Andrew Smith’s Website – http://andrewsmithwrites.com/
Twitter – @andrewaxiom