'A nation or no nation?' Enoch Powell and Thatcherism

Camilla Schofield

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


If one looks at Thatcherism through the prism of Enoch Powell, it becomes clear what Thatcherism is not: it is not a conservative philosophy of the nation. For Powell, the nation-state was the ‘ultimate political reality’. There was ‘no political reality beyond it’. In an effort to salvage that reality, Powell in 1963 argued for what he called a ‘new patriotism’ – oriented towards entrepreneurship and a post-imperial national pride. Five years later, it was again ‘the nation’ that took precedence, when he spoke of future national disintegration due to the supposedly unbreachable divide of racism. For Powell, civil society once ‘lost’ could not be found. In contrast, for Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s ‘reawakening’ was beyond itself, a reawakening of ‘the values and traditions on which Western civilization, and prosperity, are based’. Britain or Britishness came to be synonymous not with that fragile ‘web of understood relationships’ but with a set of values – with the ‘spirit of trade’ and self-reliance. Yet Thatcherism was a situational, strategic ideology. The question still unanswered in the 1970s for the ideological makers of Thatcherism was who would commit to this ‘enterprise culture’ – the Asian and West Indian middle classes or Powell’s disillusioned working-class supporters (who tended, the polls found, to have ‘weak class identifiers’)?

There is no doubt that Powellism helped to produce Thatcherism, or that Powell contributed both to the New Right’s political and economic thinking and to Thatcher’s rhetorical style. As Andrew Gamble put it in 1974, Powell aired new grievances, new alliances and a new ‘politics of power’ that could be harnessed in support of Thatcher. But, as this chapter argues, this coherence between Powell and Thatcherism was contingent and incomplete. Powell himself replied, when it was remarked that Thatcher was a convert to Powell’s monetarist policies, that it was ‘A pity she did not understand them!’ For Powell, monetarism was not a moral endeavour: it was a necessity of national economic independence.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaking Thatcher's Britain
EditorsBen Jackson, Robert Saunders
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)978-0511998164
ISBN (Print)978-1107012387, 978-1107683372
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012

Cite this