"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs."
This quote, often misquoted as 'all political careers end in failure', was particularly prescient. Recent events in Northern Ireland – if not the whole of the past generation – prove Powell right. One after another, previously successful politicians are either ousted by their own party, or defeated in the polls, or humiliated by personal affairs.
Almost every UUP leader has been hounded by other unionists to his right, and either forced out of power or out of politics – O'Neill, Chichester-Clark, Faulkner, Trimble. Even the DUP 'big beasts' have seen their careers end in failure – Paisley, Allister and now the Robinsons.
On the nationalist side the Sinn Féin leadership is experiencing the same decline – far from hopes of running for the Irish Presidency, Gerry Adams is now a much diminished man. The SDLP leadership, although so far free of person tarnish, have seen their party and its policies overtaken by Sinn Féin.
There are generations of younger politicians coming up, but they would be wise to heed the warning of Enoch Powell and 'cut off their political lives in midstream at a happy juncture' to avoid an almost inevitable failure later. The ambitious men and women eying up Robinson's, Adams', Empey's or Durkan's positions may simply be the next to fail.
To paraphrase Tolstoy, 'successful politicians are all alike; every unsuccessful politician is unsuccessful in his (or her) own way.' Who would ever have guessed the nature of the falls of the House of Robinson or the House of Adams even a few short months ago? The time, place and nature of the inevitable failures of the next generation are unknowable, but if Powell is right, fail they will.
It is worth noting, of course, that Powell's own career ended in both failure and infamy. From academic brilliance he went to high office, but fell from grace and left his natural home in the English Tory Party. He was elected MP for South Down in 1974 and held the seat until defeated in 1987 by Eddie McGrady. His memory now is largely a negative one, and almost all of the causes he espoused have turned out unsuccessful.