“…by marrying his version of nationalism to racist rage he gave British racism and racist violence in British streets its own peculiar shape for a time, and it bore his name, Powellism. He offered British politicians a model for racialist rhetoric which was to last for a long time – when, a decade later, Mrs Thatcher spoke of British civilisation being “swamped” the Powellite echoes were unmistakable, and successful.” Mike Phillips in Obituary of Enoch Powell 2001 – it seems you you could also add the name Nigel Farage a further decade on from Thatcher.
Nigel Farage has never hidden his admiration for Enoch Powell, the Conservative politician whose 1968 Rivers of Blood speech overshadowed race relations in Britain for decades.
Powell used a speech in Birmingham to rail against the social consequences of immigration from the Commonwealth and new race relations laws. He warned: “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” Powell lost his job as the shadow defence secretary and became a political pariah. But polls at the time found that his speech was credited by some for returning the Tories to power in the 1970 general election. He quit the Tories in 1974 and served as an Ulster Unionist MP for South Down until he left Parliament in 1987, turning down a life peerage.
Few politicians had dared to praise him in public until 2008, when Mr Farage, who at the time had been leader of UK Independence Party for two years, named him as his political hero, saying: “While his language may seem out of date now, the principles remain good and true.”
Mr Farage added: “I would never say that Powell was racist in any way at all. Had we listened to him, we would have much better race relations now than we have got.” Then, in January this year, Mr Farage was read parts of the “Rivers of Blood” speech on Sky News’s Murnaghan programme and said he agreed with the “basic principle” of Mr Powell’s words.
Mr Farage has only ever admitted to two meetings with Powell, who died in 1998. In his autobiography, Fighting Bull, Mr Farage described how on meeting Powell as a teenager at Dulwich College, the MP “dazzled me for once into an awestruck silence”.
On the second occasion, in May 1993, Mr Farage drove Powell to a Ukip rally, where he was due to speak, on the eve of the Newbury by-election, where the party’s founder, Alan Sked, was standing as a candidate.
Mr Farage described how a group of communists outside Newbury Racecourse hit his Mercedes with “a large wooden stave”, but Powell was “totally unmoved”. He wrote: “That meeting, with a man who had achieved so much and sacrificed so much for his principles, awoke all sorts of aspirations in me which I had not even acknowledged before. It inspired me. Public service was not just about kowtowing to a party line.”
Documents unearthed by The Daily Telegraph in an archive at Cambridge University show that Mr Farage wrote to Powell asking for his support in a by-election in 1994. They also show that Mr Farage’s initial contact was followed up by repeated attempts by party officials and candidates to enlist the support of Mr Powell, including two invitations to stand as a candidate for Ukip in two national elections.
In his letter, sent on March 23, 1994 from Mr Farage’s home in Kent, the 29-year-old asked Powell to support his candidature. Mr Farage wrote: “I have everything in place to fight a good, aggressive campaign but a voice from you could transform things and put the issue to the forefront. Please give us the help you can. As your performance at Newbury showed the electorate are beginning to wake from that long sleep. Come and give them another jog.”
Turning to specifics, Mr Farage wrote: “I will hold search public meetings during the campaign and I would like you to come and speak at the Town Hall in Eastleigh at some point during the week preceding Polling Day. If you agree to this I will, of course, organise transport, dinner and whatever you need. I might take a break from the driving this time!
“Our members in Hampshire are very keen and active, a speech from you would be an inspiration to the campaign. Recent conversations with the Political journalists leave me with the thought that the time has never been better.”
Mr Farage referred in the letter to a previously undisclosed meeting with Powell in Bow, east London, which he said was “very enjoyable”.
He wrote: “As I said to you at the meeting at Bow, the manifesto for the European elections states clearly that if elected U.K.I.P candidates will not take their seats. I know that you approve of this policy, as did the vast majority of the people who attended that meeting. The major policy stance at Eastleigh will be to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and to replace it with a genuine free trade agreement. Sovereignty is a very live issue at the moment, so the timing of the Poll will help our cause.”
Powell replied to Mr Farage five days later on March 28, saying: “I have given very serious consideration to the request in your letter of 23rd March but have concluded that I do not feel I can contribute further to the campaign by speaking on your behalf at the by-election. Recent developments seem to show that opinion in the United Kingdom is consolidating against membership of the European Union.”
According to the archive, this was the last communication between Mr Farage and Powell. However, other Ukip members, including Mr Sked, continued to lobby Powell for his support.
Three weeks later, on April 18, 1994, Mr Sked, who was the party’s leader, asked Powell to stand as Ukip’s candidate for Central London in the 1995 European Parliament elections. In a handwritten note on Ukip-headed notepaper, Mr Sked wrote: “A large number of people, many of them known to you, have suggested to me that I invite you to be our candidate for Central London in the Euro-Elections. As you know, we don’t intend to take up seats or salaries. We fight our course in the UK alone.
“All you would have to do would be to allow your name to be used, design your own election address and make as many statements as you saw fit. There need be no meetings or actual campaigning. What do you think?”
Powell replied three days later, on April 21: “I am in fact not intending to contest a parliamentary seat, having effectively retired since my defeat at the General Election of 1987.”
Over the following four years, apparently at the suggestion of Mr Sked, a succession of Ukip candidates wrote to Powell asking for endorsement. Powell agreed to help three of them.
On Nov 24, 1994, Malcolm Floyd, Ukip’s candidate in the Dudley West by-election of the following month, asked Powell “whether you might be kind enough to support me in my fight for British independence and the maintenance of the Union, both of which objectives are key points in our party manifesto”. Powell agreed, and sent back an open letter addressed to the people of Dudley the following day which Mr Floyd was “welcome to use in any way you think fit”. It said: “I hope the electors of Dudley West realise how privileged they are to able to ‘speak for Britain’ before the rest of the country: they can help to turn out a government which persists in Europe in stripping this country of its right to make its own laws and policies and to levy its own taxes. You will do this most effectively if you support Mr Floyd.”
Four months later, on March 30, 1995, Vivian Linacre, Ukip’s candidate in the following May’s Perth and Kinross by-election, asked Powell to endorse his candidature, saying that his “personal support would be invaluable” in a by-election that is “bound to attract national interest”. Powell replied: “I am glad to know that the electors of Perth and Kinross are being given the opportunity to express themselves against membership of the European Union, which is tantamount to the renunciation of self-government by the United Kingdom, let alone Scotland.”
On Nov 19, 1996, DJ Richards, a Ukip member from Surrey, wrote to Powell asking him to be the party’s candidate for South West Surrey at the 1997 General Election against Virginia Bottomley, the Tory Cabinet minister, saying: “We have concluded that to counter the appeal of Mrs Bottomley we should field a candidate of ‘high profile’ status. The approach to you is made with this in mind.”
Powell thanked Mr Richards for his letter, but said: “As one who is now retired from Parliament, I am not proposing to take an active part as a candidate in the forthcoming General Election.”
Then, six months later on April 16, 1997, John Baker, Ukip’s candidate in Folkestone and Hythe, asked Powell to support him against the Conservative home secretary, Michael Howard, now Lord Howard of Lympne.
Powell thanked him for his letter, adding: “I think that the UKIP will provide some of those who are opposed to British membership of the European Union with an opportunity for recording their opposition at the election.”
This letter was the final Ukip communication received by Powell. He died the following year, the same year that Mr Farage became Ukip’s chairman.