A few weeks back, I sat down with Tory MEP Daniel Hannan to chat about his YouTube stardom; his low opinion of the National Health Service; and those who have inspired his particular brand of Tory libertarianism. After mentioning Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich Hayek, Hannan said that, in a British context, he would choose Enoch Powell, "somebody who understood the importance of national democracy, who understood why you need to live in an independent country and what that meant, as well as being a free marketeer and a small government Conservative."
I was rather surprised by the answer (mumbling, faintly in the background, "really?"); Enoch Powell, as one English journalist told me via Twitter, is the "third rail of British politics," best known amongst American political junkies (if at all) for his famous "rivers of blood" speech. My surprise, though, was based on a rather limited knowedge of Powell's history; a Pavlovian reaction to that speech.
In 1968, Powell told a group of supporters that the United Kingdom's immigration policy was "mad," and must be immediately halted. Looking to the future, Powell thundered, he was "filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood.'" It is important to underscore that during our conversation, Hannan said nothing about his views on immigration.
Hannan had attracted scorn from both sides of the aisle after denouncing the NHS as a "failure" on Fox News, and has now created a brand new row with his Reason.tv appearance. The Daily Telegraph has details:
The Conservative leader, who has placed great importance on changing public views of the Tories’ health policies, faced calls to sack Mr Hannan earlier this month when the MEP described the NHS as a “mistake” during an American television debate.
Now he has given another interview in the United States, in which he cited Powell, the Conservative minister who was cast into the political wilderness after warning that open immigration would lead to “rivers of blood,” as a major political influence.
He told reason.TV: “He was somebody who understood the importance of national democracy, who understood why you need to live in an independent country and what that meant, as well as being a free marketeer and a small government Conservative." Tory sources said that Mr Hannan would not be disciplined over his latest remarks, as his praise for Powell had not referred to the late politician’s views on immigration.
But Labour seized on his words. Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, said: "Yet again, we are seeing the two faces of the Conservative Party. The one they want to present to the public and the one which attacks the NHS and praises Enoch Powell.”
The Spectator's Alex Massie says that Labour's criticism of Hannan is "nonsense":
Never mind that the Labour voters who deserted the party to support the ghastly BNP would have agreed with Powell on immigration, the notion that Powell=Hitler is too absurd for words. Which is to say that it's perfect for politics and ideal fodder for our newspapers who, though they should know better, cannot resist deliberately creating a nonsense out of nothing. If this means helping politicians deliberately distort the obvious meaning and context of an argument then so be it. Who's paying attention?And, just to be clear, if Hannan had bigged-up Powell's views on immigration while he was talking to Reason the chances are that he'd have been challenged on them. That's because Reason's a libertarian magazine that, you know, is pretty relaxed about the free movement of people and generally disapproves of border supremacists and absolutists.