Enoch powell

How much does Britain still ‘love’ the NHS?

‘Of course I support the NHS. Everybody supports the NHS, or says they do,’ poked the comedian Frankie Boyle in one of the many campaigns promoting the health service. To admit you don’t believe in this national institution is as taboo as not caring about Britishness, about goodness, about people. The public is keen to find evidence for this collective belief. Nigel Lawson famously said that ‘the NHS is the closest thing the English have to a national religion’ – words which tend to be heard as praise. But his comment was laced with criticism. He continued, ‘with those who practise in it regarding themselves as a priesthood. This made

How Britain was misled over Europe for 60 years

Just as one is inclined to believe Carlyle’s point that the history of the world is but the biography of great men, so Christopher Tugendhat, in this level-headed account, is right to conclude that the history of the Conservative party in the past 60 or 70 years has been deeply affected by the biography of the movement for the European Union. And it would have shocked Carlyle that a great woman – Margaret Thatcher – played a central part and, according to Tugendhat, altered the course of the party’s relationship with Europe. She was certainly central to the debate, not least because rather too many Conservatives felt she had died

Why do British galleries shun the humane, generous art of Ruskin Spear?

Where do you see paintings by Ruskin Spear (1911–90)? In the salerooms mostly, because his work in public collections is rarely on display. Until the National Portrait Gallery closed for redevelopment it was, however, possible to study Spear’s splendid portrait of ‘Citizen James’ (Sid James) peering from a black and white TV screen, and his oil sketch of Harold Wilson wreathed in pipe smoke, the epitome of political cunning. Both were strikingly more convincing than their companion array of anodyne commissioned images. Like his beloved Sickert, Spear painted commissioned portraits but also took to making enigmatic ‘unofficial’ portraits based on press photographs — or, in the case of Sid James,

Why great speeches are made for stage and screen

Curious thing, writer’s block. If you believe it exists. Terry Pratchett didn’t. ‘There’s no such thing,’ he said. ‘It was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.’ He had a point. Writers write, period. But there is a syndrome in my house known as Not Starting Anything New Through Fear Of It Being Not Very Good. Less catchy than ‘writer’s block’, but arguably a more accurate description of the condition. My Covid-induced version of the above involved endlessly ‘honing’ an already completed play about my mother to devastatingly little effect and musing on the oldest creative question of all: is there a formula for writing success, and if so

Voices from the recent past

Interviews, like watercolours, are very hard to get right, and yet look how steadily their art has become degraded and under-appreciated. Each and every Shumble, Whelper and Pigge in our media fancies that an interview can be tossed off: you need only switch on the microphone and let the person speak. Radio is the worst culprit. John Fowles was on a US book tour when the announcer muddled his notes and introduced him as ‘the singing nun of Milwaukee’. Inevitably hitting the wrong note, too many interviewers rely on the rickety scaffolding of the unpublished novelist, seizing on, say, their subject’s white socks, and then truffling up some unpalatable morsel

Enoch Powell’s problem was vanity – not racism

The anniversary of the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by Enoch Powell reminded me of my stint as literary editor of this mag. If you are responsible for finding book reviews each week, you come to cherish the regulars, such as Enoch, who are prepared to review anything. His besetting sin was not racism so much as vanity. He always wanted to cut a dash by saying things, however foolish, which drew attention. Hence his famous, almost invariably ridiculous, opinions — that Our Lord was not crucified, that Shakespeare did not write the plays etc. In delivering the R of B speech he got what he most wanted: attention. No one

They say Enoch Powell had a fine mind. Hmm

Enoch Powell has been in many minds this month. It’s the 50th anniversary of his famous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech and I took part in a BBC radio programme discussing this — and hearing the speech itself read superbly by the actor, Ian McDiarmid. The small campaign against the very broadcasting of the speech fizzled out — not least, I think, because the ghastly text does Mr Powell no favours, and many of us who had never read it in its entirety were shocked not only by its tone but by its careless inaccuracy and faltering logic. Yet there’s been a widespread popular view that, agree or disagree with him,

Diary – 26 April 2018

Dining in splendour beneath Van Dycks as we forked in the delicious venison, it was hard not to agree with my neighbour that we were in illustrious company and in one of the most beautiful rooms in England. Our hosts had, however, as we agreed, been bold in the choice of multinational guests, many of whom had never met one another. A challenge for the shy. How much easier, we said, were children’s parties. If all dinner parties had conjurors, or games of Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs, they would lose their terror for those of us who still feel tongue-tied by social demands. Lo and behold! As we

The sinister power of Enoch Powell’s speech

The BBC’s decision to re-broadcast Enoch Powell’s so-called “Rivers of Blood” speech in its entirety this week has excited just the shouting match that was to be expected. On the one hand, there has been liberal fury at the honour supposedly paid to a speech that endorsed and encouraged racial hatred. On the other, the standard defence of Powell’s line of argument: that he was not encouraging a race war, but predicting one and seeking to head it off.  What’s striking on revisiting the speech is that, for better or for worse, Powell predicted and encompassed both those points of view in the speech. It’s customary, in the scheme of

Speech impediment | 19 April 2018

It was a provocative decision by the producers of Archive on 4, 50 Years On: Rivers of Blood (Nathan Gower and David Prest) to base their programme around a full exposition of Enoch Powell’s infamous 1968 speech on immigration, all 3,183 words of it, spoken by an actor (Ian McDiarmid) as if he were giving the speech in front of an audience. Why give further publicity to a speech that gave such offence at the time, and so dangerously expressed such inflammatory opinions? But the explosive reaction to the Radio 4 programme on social media, even before it went out on air, explains and justifies their decision. The speech, given

Perishable goods

  Labour of Love is the new play by James Graham, the poet laureate of politics. We’re in a derelict colliery town in the East Midlands where the new MP is a malleable Blairite greaser, David Lyons. He arrives to find the office in crisis. The constituency agent, Jean, has handed in her notice but David is smitten by her acerbic tongue and her brisk management style so he asks her to stay. She agrees, reluctantly, and they settle into a bickering rivalry underpinned by affection. But is there more? Possibly, yes, but both are held back by their natural reticence and by fate. Secret declarations of love go astray.

A gaping hole in the week

This is a gem of a book for Radio 4 lovers, particularly those of us who work out which day of the week it is by who’s speaking on the station at 9.02 a.m. Published the week that Midweek was abolished for ever, it is Libby Purves’s story of the programme she presented for 33 years. In this brief memoir she has not only immortalised the distinctive flavour of the ‘And now for some lively conversation’ Wednesday-morning 45 minutes. She has also reminded us that Radio 4 is ‘basically, a marvel’: for many people, it is ‘their university and their friend’. All presenters, Purves writes, are aware that they are

Low life | 9 February 2017

Dr Ivan Mindlin was the in-house casino doctor at the Stardust in Las Vegas in the early 1970s. Mention any of the main characters in Nick Pileggi’s true-crime classic Casino: the Rise and Fall of the Mob in Las Vegas and the Doc knew them well, including the central characters Lefty and Geri Rosenthal. The mob monster Tony ‘the Ant’ Spilotro he didn’t know personally. He went out of his way to avoid him in fact, he says. But he and Spilotro shared a maid who was forever complaining about the mess Spilotro and his Hole in the Wall gang made when they were relaxing at home. Doc took me

High life | 21 July 2016

From my bedroom window I can see a little girl with blonde pigtails riding her bicycle round and round for hours on end. She’s German, looks ten years old and lives nearby. Next month I am finally moving to my new home, a beauty built from scratch amid farmland. Cows, deer, the odd donkey graze nearby, a far better bunch than the one Gstaad attracts nowadays. I am, however, king of the mountain. My place is the highest chalet on the Wispille, one of the three mountains that dominate the Mecca of the nouveaux-riche and the wannabee. Life is swell, as long as the old ticker keeps ticking. An approaching

For the first time, I feel ashamed to be British

Before even writing this I know what response it will meet. Some who fought for Leave on 23 June will be contemptuous. ‘Bad loser’, ‘diddums’, ‘suck it up’, ‘go and live somewhere else’. From the online Leave brigade who stalk the readers’ comments section beneath media columns I’m already familiar with the attitudes of the angry brigade; but aware that there were also plenty of perfectly sane and nice people who took a considered decision to vote for our exit from the EU. To what I shall say, such people can reasonably reply that their side have beliefs too, and Remain can claim no monopoly on reason or conscience. What

Long life | 16 June 2016

It was 41 years ago that The Spectator first urged its readers to vote Brexit in a referendum, but the circumstances were different then. In 1975 the Establishment was generally enthusiastic for Europe. Most of the Tory party, including its new leader, Margaret Thatcher, was keen to keep Britain in the Common Market it had only recently joined. The dissenters were few among the Tories and were mostly on the left wing of the Labour party and the trade unions, which saw Europe as inimical to socialism. Almost a third of Harold Wilson’s cabinet members were Eurosceptics, and he set the precedent (later followed by David Cameron) of suspending cabinet

Vote ‘leave’ and stop the blurring of Britain

I don’t remember the last European referendum being nearly as dramatic as the current one. In 1975, we were being asked about our membership of the Common Market, not the -European Union, so there was less at stake — at any rate, that’s what the inners -wanted us to believe. The battle was also much more one-sided. Then as now, the pro-European side included the Prime Minister and the leaders of the other two main parties, but there were fewer cabinet ministers on the other side and it was easier to -caricature the antis (Tony Benn, Enoch Powell) as extremists. In 1975, the national press was overwhelmingly in favour of

Vote Leave and Leave.EU won’t be merging anytime soon

Is peace about to break out between the two Brexit campaigns, Vote Leave and Leave.EU? Today’s Daily Telegraph reports that Arron Banks, the co-founder of Leave.EU, has written to Matthew Elliot from Vote Leave to suggest they should ‘put all these disagreements to one side’. In the letter, Banks says he is happy to merge with the campaigns without any special terms: ‘In terms of uniting Leave.eu and Vote Leave we have no prior conditions and believe that discussions should now take place that reflect the complementary strengths that the two organisations enjoy. ‘I have a simple view of life and this is my unequivocal message moving forward – if you want to leave

Rab Butler was too indecisive (and badly dressed) to be Prime Minister

‘The best prime minister we never had’ is not an epithet exclusive to Rab Butler. Widely applied to the late Denis Healey, it was also said of Hugh Gaitskell, Iain Macleod and Roy Jenkins. (More recent candidates would include Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke.) All had arguably greater intellects than the prime ministers they ended up serving, all enjoyed significant popularity in the country and all were committed to the centre-ground of British politics. Yet while ‘The best PM we’ve never had’ is a club rather than a solitary designation, Rab Butler is pre-eminent among its members. The holder of all three great offices of state — a record shared

Jonathan Meades on god, football and brutophilia – and why his memoir was 17 years late

This is a transcript of a talk, ‘Composing the Past’, given by Jonathan Meades at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh on 26 August 2015, about writing An Encyclopaedia of Myself, which won the Spears Memoir Prize and was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley award The most recent film I made was on the sculptural neo-expressionistic architecture of the late 50s, 60s and early 70s – known as brutalism after the French for raw concrete, beton brut or bru, depending on how costive with consonants the speaker is. This film has had bizarre and unintended consequences. Forty years ago two fine comic actors, both now dead, John Fortune and John Wells,