Enoch Powell is one of the strangest figures in British political history. While most of his contemporaries – he lived from 1912-98 – have faded from public memory, he endures like an angular building, erected in a prominent spot and faced in encaustic tiles, never mellowing.
“Some loved him, some hated him and some thought he was mad,” as Michael Cockerell remarked in an admirable radio piece about him after his death, “and the three groups were not mutually exclusive.”
His critics have helped to keep Powell’s name alive. They denounced the BBC for last Sunday broadcasting in its entirety his inflammatory “Rivers of Blood” speech, delivered 50 years ago this Friday.
By uttering these protests, they paid him a kind of unintended compliment. Powell, they seemed to imply, was still dangerous, still able to stir up racial hatred, still a man who in the interests of public safety must be suppressed rather than given a hearing.