Peter Mandelson, First Secretary of State, Lord of the Realm, used to be much better at the smear-and-run stuff. This week he’s seizing on the opportunity to attack Tory backbench MEP Daniel Hannan as some sort of crypto-racist and crypto-facist.
Mandelson, the dark lord, prince of darkness, is wondering out loud if Dan Hannan’s apparent regard for Enoch Powell reflects a racist undertone to Hannan, which can by extension be argued to reflect the thinking of the whole party.
There is a basic problem with this line of thinking, or rather, there are three basic problems with this line of thinking. First, Enoch Powell himself was undoubtedly a brilliant man who made stupid mistakes and badly misinterpreted the winds of change represented by immigration. He got British tolerance wrong, and he didn’t quite understand his own vestigial racism as a limiter to his ability to comprehend the world. I know this is considered blasphemy by some, but that’s as close as I can get Enoch Powell.
Second problem for Mandelson is that Daniel Hannan has explicitly and clearly said that Enoch Powell got immigration wrong. He said:
“For what it’s worth, I think Enoch Powell was wrong on immigration. The civil unrest that he forecast, and that many feared in 1968, didn’t materialise. Britain assimilated a large population with an ease that few countries have matched. Being an immigrant myself, I have particular cause to be grateful for Britain’s understated cosmopolitanism.”
The third problem is linked to the first; it’s simply intellectually lazy not to acknowledge that Enoch Powell had some good characteristics. Even Mandelson’s buddy, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair said of Powell:
“He was one of the great figures of 20th-century British politics, gifted with a brilliant mind.”
Mandelson’s attempt to portray Dan Hannan, and by extension the Conservatives as whatever it is he’s trying to portray them as, is doomed simply because the arguments, when they’re investigated in any detail at all, aren’t even particularly nuanced.