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Nigel Harris


(Spring 1966)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.24, Spring 1966, p.35.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Nation Not Afraid
The Thinking of Enoch Powell
Batsford, 30s

The Conservative Opportunity
Fifteen Bow Group Essays
Batsford, 18s

The Greasy Pole
Reginald Bevins
Hodder and Stoughton, 16s

In the division within British Conservatism between Liberalism (free market competition, private business above the State, etc) and corporatism (controlled competition, State planning and tariffs), Enoch Powell is on the Liberal side, unlike the overwhelming majority of his party colleagues. The present volume attempts to present his views through extracts from his speeches, and the job, competently done. Powell is worth reading, not because of his political significance, but because he penetrates the fog at the centre of British politics, the series of smug assumptions that unites the two political parties. He writes clearly, and cogently – how Government policy is far less significant than the world economy in shaping the British economy, how State intervention provides most of the problems the Government has to solve, how trade-union bargaining in no way affects the general level of wages paid out (so that incomes policy is an absurd irrelevance to strengthening British capitalism).

The points are worth exploring as a contrast to the certainties of Wilson and Heath (that the Government creates all things, and the trade unions do all the bad things), even though they fit into a scheme that is, tor the Conservative Party, a political irrelevance. To create Powell’s economy would require a mammoth revolution that very few in the ruling class want, even though specific points might be useful. Nor is Powell plausible or consistent within his own terms – he depends for validity on two idiotic assumptions:

  1. that the Labour Party is a motivelessly malignant Gestapo instead of being, in leadership, indistinguishable from the Conservatives, and
  2. that the British economy could conceivably constitute a free market between roughly equal competitors.

More than this, Powell refrains from introducing the real tough precondition for his model to work – free competition within the British market by foreign rivals. He is in favour of liberalised trade, but he does not postulate this as a precondition for all the rest to work, which it is. In effect this means his ‘freedom’ is freedom for the big fish to gobble up the small. Correlatively, there are here no hard proposals to break up monopolies and oligopolies, to break down tariff barriers to expose big firms-to foreign competition. Again, the trade unions do not come into the category of free market competitors, because they are a ‘monopoly’ (as if the TUC could dispose of the British labour force as it liked). And like all Liberals, Powell demands that each man be free to run his own life, but would shudder at the logical derivative; workers’ control. Finally, Powell is inconsistent on labour – he wants free movement of capital, but not free movement of labour, since he is one of the champions of immigration control. Mr Powell is a myth, bred on the cultivated muddles of British politics. This is a useful volume for those interested.

The Conservative Opportunity is much closer to what the Tory leadership defines as reality, and, as a result, much duller. The Bow Group chased the Liberal myth once as hotly as Powell, only to change gear with unseemly haste when Macmillan reintroduced planning in 1961 – West Germany as most popular Bow Group country was rapidly displaced by France. This volume consists of an examination of fifteen topics, both issues and proposals being so safe, so tailored to the status quo that the Fabian Society must be envious. The ginger has left the ginger group now that its members have taken their Commons seats and can calculate the personal cost of being as flamboyant as they were when young. They are eminently ‘practical,’ and they seem to have rediscovered with surprise ‘freedom of choice.’ ‘Freedom of choice’ is not offered as the necessity after equality has been achieved, but against a backcloth of inequality – which means therefore freedom for the rich to spend their money as they wish. Give power back to money where it belongs is the cry so that the rich do not have to queue with the poor (as if they did!). It is a bit low pressure.

As for Mr Bevins, he could have saved the paper. Powell is interesting, the Bow Group essays worth dipping into, but Mr Bevins offers us the ‘real nature of politics,’ a compendium of shallow gossip, trivial gibes and vanity. Bevins was once a Labour Party member in Liverpool. It is good to know that he escaped from the horrid dogma and doctrinaire irrelevance of Labour into the utter triviality of his present consciousness.

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