Monday 11 January 2010

All political lives end in failure

One time unionist MP for South Down, Enoch Powell, is famous for his 1968 'Rivers of Blood' speech. But another of his quotes is especially relevant at present. In his biography of Joseph Chamberlain he wrote that:

"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.


Anonymous said...

Amongst the ordinary people of England, Powell is remembered with almost awe. A Catholic Irishman will never see this voiced to his face, but if lucky he may overhear it. Powell is like Thatcher, but only more so. He is England's Pearse.

The rest of what you say is true.

Anonymous said...

Enoch Powell was a great and brilliant man. A true prophet. Britain would be a far, far safer, happier and more liveable place today had he been listened to. No subway suicide bombings. No race riots. No English lady police-officer hacked to death with machetes, etc. He knew what was coming. He spoke up about it. He tried to stop it. I very deeply respect him. He cared about the British people. That's a hell of a lot more then I can say about the Labour party.

pagasp said...

Amongst the ordinary people of England, Powell is remembered with almost awe.

powell was the man who said the cia were involved in the assassination of airey neave, hmmmmm, most English political class types realised he'd lost the plot. so as the horse lad says, all political careers end in bla bla. u get the picture dont u, google it. gstq ahhh why: erin go bragh, two bags and a fish