A long while back, probably around the time I was writing strongly worded letters to The Independent about their reviewers’ abysmal taste in sturdy footwear, I worked for the PUSH University Guides. One of my bright ideas was to write to hundreds of famous people (this was before celebrities were invented) to ask if they had any anecdotes, advice or sardonic one-liners about their time in higher education.
For some reason, one of the people I contacted was Enoch Powell. Why I thought that yer average A-level student might be interested in the reminiscences of a right-wing politician whose greatest (in)fame had arisen a quarter-century before, I’m not sure. But in due course, a communication was forthcoming from his Eaton Square eyrie, manual typewriter, notepaper not A4, pale blue to match his scary eyes. He let it be known that looking back at his time at Cambridge in the early 1930s, he regretted not having availed himself more of the social life; and he wished me to pass this on to our readers.
I immediately fashioned an image of the young Powell, an awkward, provincial, lower-middle-class youth, thrust into the lush, louche decadence of Cambridge; on a Saturday night, in his room, ploughing through Thucyides and Pliny while beautiful, confident, gilded aristocrats drink and flirt and smoke and cavort in the quads and fountains, their joys filtering through his window. And he wanted to join them, even for half an hour, but he knew he never could. For all the harm he’d done to race relations and social cohesion, from then on, I felt rather sorry for him. Even as I read the text of his notorious Rivers of Blood speech, he seemed less like a wannabe dictator, more like the butler in Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, fatally unable to make that crucial human connection; hugely intelligent, but entirely lacking in understanding.
And on vaguely related matters, however cheesed off you are with the gimps and chancers who pretend to run this country, please don’t vote for the BNP today. The reason they can’t make a human connection is that they’re subhuman.