NHS-hating, Enoch Powell-admiring Tory MEP Daniel Hannan’s latest piece on the Telegraph website is headlined ‘Down with collective responsibility’. He means this as a plea for more “heterodoxy within political parties”, but it could equally do as a summary of his attitude to public service provision.
As for Powell, Hannan and his supporters protest that he applauded Powellite views not on race and immigration but on “national democracy”, an “independent country”, free markets and small government.
But now Hannan has found another thing he admires about Powell: a “special kind of integrity” that allowed him to do people “the courtesy of addressing them as intelligent adults”.
This is an odd thing to say, for Powell was a master of one of the sneakier rhetorical tricks in the politician’s book: presenting your own ferociously held and deeply controversial views as though they are simply the down-to-earth remarks of decent, ordinary folk; you yourself find these views a little uncomfortable but see it as your civic duty to pass them on in a spirit of honesty; you even come, from being a humble and earnest messenger, to endorse these views out of respect for the sheer ordinariness and decency of these good people.
Thus the ‘rivers of blood’ speech opened with a supposed “conversation with a constituent, a middle-aged, quite ordinary working man”, which made Powell think: “I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else.” And he went on to share one of “hundreds upon hundreds of letters” from “ordinary, decent, sensible people” that just so happened to support exactly the point he sought to make.
Many politicians like to cite supposed anecdotes or correspondence when it’s convenient; there’s no way to know whether these claims are true, and there’s a near certainty that even if true they are not representative. Above all, this tactic allows the politician to take half a step back from taking responsibility for their own ideology. It’s not an honest approach and it shouldn’t be lauded as such.