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John Enoch Powell, MBE (16 June 1912 – 8 February 1998) was a British politician, linguist, writer, academic, soldier and poet.

He was a Conservative Party Member of Parliament (MP) between 1950 and February 1974, and an Ulster Unionist MP between October 1974 and 1987. He was controversial through most of his career, and his tenure in senior office was brief. He had strong and distinctive views on matters such as immigration, national identity, monetary policy, and the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community, which later became the European Union. He was dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet for his controversial and widely remembered 1968 "Rivers of Blood" speech in opposition to mass Commonwealth immigration to Britain.


Early life and work

Early years and education

Enoch Powell was born in Stechfordmarker, Birminghammarker, England. He lived there for the first six years of his life before moving, in 1918, to Kings Nortonmarker, where he lived until 1930. He was the only child of Albert Enoch Powell (1872–1956), primary school headmaster, and his wife, Ellen Mary (1886–1953). Ellen was the daughter of Henry Breese, a Liverpool policeman and his wife Eliza, who had given up her own teaching career after marrying. The Powells were of Welsh descent, having moved to the developing Black Countrymarker during the early 19th century. His great-grandfather was a coal miner, and his grandfather had been employed in the iron trade.

Powell was a pupil at Kings Norton Boys' School before moving to King Edward's School, Birminghammarker, where he studied classics (which would later influence his 'Rivers of Blood' speech), and was one of the few pupils in the school's history to attain 100% in an end-of-year English examination. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridgemarker, from 1930 to 1933, during which time he fell under the influence both of the poet A. E. Housman, then Professor of Latin at the university, and of the writings of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He took no part in politics at university.

It was while at Cambridge that Powell is recorded as having enjoyed one of his first close relationships. Indeed, according to John Evans, Chaplain of Trinitymarker and Extra Preacher to the Queen, instructions were left with him to reveal after Powell's death that at least one of the romantic affairs of his life had been homosexual. Powell had particularly drawn the Chaplain's attention to lines in his First Poems (published 1937). Biographers such as Simon Heffer dispute this however, and have argued that this did not mean that he was homosexual; merely that he had not yet met any girls.

Whilst at University, in one Greek prose examination lasting three hours, he was asked to translate a passage into Greek. Powell walked out after one and a half hours, having produced translations in the styles of Plato and Thucydides. For his efforts, he was awarded a double starred first in Latin and Greek. As well as his education at Cambridge, Powell took a course in Urdu at the School of Oriental Studies, now the School of Oriental and African Studiesmarker, University of London, because he felt that his long-cherished ambition of becoming Viceroy of India would be unattainable without knowledge of an Indian language.

Pre-war career

After graduating from Cambridge, Powell stayed on at Trinity College as a Fellow, spending much of his time studying ancient manuscripts in Rome and producing academic works in Greek and Welsh. In 1937 he was appointed Professor of Greek at Sydney University aged 25 (failing in his aim of beating Nietzsche's record of becoming a professor at 24). Amongst his pupils was the future Prime Minister of Australia Gough Whitlam. He revised Stuart-Jones's edition of Thucydides' Historiae for the Oxford University Press in 1938, and his most lasting contribution to classical scholarship was his Lexicon to Herodotus, published the same year.

Soon after arrival in Sydney, Australia he was appointed Curator of the Nicholson Museum at Sydney University. He stunned the vice-chancellor by informing him that war would soon begin in Europe, and that when it did he would be heading home to enlist in the army. By the time Powell left King Edward's School in 1930 he had confirmed his instinctive belief that the Armistice was merely temporary and that Britain would be at war with Germany again. During his time there as a professor, he grew increasingly angry at the appeasement of Nazi Germany and what he saw as a betrayal of British national interests. After Neville Chamberlain's first visit to Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgadenmarker Powell wrote in a letter to his parents of 18 September 1938:

In another letter to his parents in June 1939, before the beginning of war, Powell wrote: "It is the English, not their Government; for if they were not blind cowards, they would lynch Chamberlain and Halifax and all the other smarmy traitors". At the outbreak of war, Powell immediately returned to Britain, although not before buying a Russian dictionary, since he thought "Russia would hold the key to our survival and victory, as it had in 1812 and 1916".

War years

During October 1939, almost a month after returning home, Powell enlisted in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as an Australian. During later years he recorded his appointment from private to lance-corporal in his Who's Who entry, on other occasions describing it as a greater promotion than entering the Cabinet. He was trained for a commission after, whilst working in a kitchen, answering the question of an inspecting officer with a Greek proverb. He was commissioned on the General List in 1940, but almost immediately transferred to the Intelligence Corps. During October 1941, as a Lieutenant, Powell was posted to Cairomarker and transferred back to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was soon promoted to the rank of Major. He helped plan the attack on Rommel's supply lines, as well as the Battle of El Alameinmarker, and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in August 1942. The following year, he was honoured as a member of the Order of the British Empire for his military service.

In August 1943, Powell was posted to Delhimarker. Though he had served in Africa with the Desert Rats, Powell himself never actually experienced combat, serving for most of his military career as a staff officer. It was in Algiersmarker that the beginning of Powell's dislike of the United States was planted. After talking with some senior American officials, he became convinced that one of America's main war aims was to destroy the British Empire. Writing home on February 16, 1943, Powell stated: "I see growing on the horizon the greater peril than Germany or Japan ever were... our terrible enemy, America...." Powell's conviction of the anti-British attitude of the Americans continued during the war. Powell cut out and retained all his life an article from the New Statesman newspaper of 13 November 1943, in which the American Clare Boothe Luce said in a speech that Indian independence would mean that the "USA will really have won the greatest war in the world for democracy".

Powell desperately wanted to go to the Far East to help the fight against Japan because "the war in Europe is won now, and I want to see the Union Flag back in Singaporemarker" before, Powell thought, the Americans beat Britain to it. He attempted to join the Chindits, and jumped into a taxicab to bring the matter up with Orde Wingate, but his duties and rank precluded the assignment.

Having begun the war as the youngest professor in the Commonwealth, Powell ended it as the youngest Brigadier in the British army, one of the very few men of the entire war to rise from Private to Brigadier (another being Fitzroy Maclean). Powell felt guilty for having survived when many of those he had met during his journey through the ranks had not. When once asked how he would like to be remembered, he at first answered "Others will remember me as they will remember me", but when pressed he replied "I should like to have been killed in the war."

Political career

Joining the Conservative Party

Though he voted for the Labour Party in their 1945 landslide victory, because he wanted to punish the Conservative Party for the Munich agreement, after the war he joined the Conservatives and worked for the Conservative Research Department under R. A. Butler, where his colleagues included Iain Macleod and Reginald Maudling.

Powell's ambition to be Governor-General of India crumbled in February 1947, when Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced that Indian independence was imminent. Powell was so shocked by the change of policy that he spent the whole night after it was announced walking the streets of London. He came to terms with it by becoming fiercely anti-imperialist, believing that once India had gone the whole empire should follow it. This logical absolutism explained his later indifference to the Suez crisis, his contempt for the Commonwealth, and his urging that Britain should end any remaining pretence that it was a world power.

Election to Parliament

After unsuccessfully contesting the Labour Party's ultra-safe seat of Normantonmarker at a by-election in 1947 (when the Labour majority was 62%), he was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Wolverhampton South Westmarker in the 1950 general election.

First years as a Backbench MP

On 16 March 1950 Powell made his maiden speech.

On 3 March 1953 Powell spoke against the Royal Titles Bill in the House of Commons. He said he found three major changes to the style of the United Kingdom, "all of which seem to me to be evil". The first one was "that in this title, for the first time, will be recognised a principle hitherto never admitted in this country, namely, the divisibility of the crown". Powell said that the unity of the realm had evolved over centuries and included the British Empire: "It was a unit because it had one Sovereign. There was one Sovereign: one realm". He feared that by "recognising the division of the realm into separate realms, are we not opening the way for that other remaining unity – the last unity of all – that of the person, to go the way of the rest?"

The second change he objected to was "the suppression of the word 'British', both from before the words 'Realms and Territories' where it is replaced by the words 'her other' and from before the word 'Commonwealth', which, in the Statute of Westminster, is described as the 'British Commonwealth of Nations'":

Powell claimed that the answer was that because the British Nationality Act 1948 had removed allegiance to the crown as the basis of citizenship and replaced that with nine separate citizenships combined together by statute. Therefore if any of these nine countries became republics the law would not change, as happened with India when it became a republic. Furthermore, Powell went on, the essence of unity was "that all the parts recognise they would sacrifice themselves to the interests of the whole". He denied that there was in India that "recognition of belonging to a greater whole which involves the ultimate consequence in certain circumstances of self-sacrifice in the interests of the whole". Therefore the title 'Head of the Commonwealth', the third major change, was "essentially a sham. They are essentially something which we have invented to blind ourselves to the reality of the position".

These changes were "greatly repugnant" to Powell but:

For the rest of his life Powell regarded this speech as the finest he ever delivered.

Powell was a member of the Suez Group of MPs who were against the removal of British troops from the Suez Canalmarker because such a move would demonstrate, Powell argued, that Britain could no longer maintain a position there and that any claim to the Suez Canal would therefore be illogical. However, after the troops had left in 1954 and the Egyptians nationalised the Canal in 1956, Powell opposed the British attempts to retake the Canal in the Suez War because he thought the British no longer had the resources to be a world power.

Periods as a Minister

During December 1955 he was made a junior Housing Minister and later became Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but in January 1958 he resigned, along with the Chancellor of the Exchequer Peter Thorneycroft and his Treasury colleague Nigel Birch, in protest at government plans for increased expenditure; he was a staunch advocate of disinflation, or in modern terms a monetarist, and a believer in market forces. (Powell was also a member of the Mont Pelerin Society.) The by-product of this expenditure was the printing of extra money to pay for it all, which Powell believed to be the cause of inflation, and in effect a form of taxation, as the holders of money find their money is worth less. Inflation rose to 2.5% - a high figure for the era, especially in peacetime.

During the late 1950s Powell promoted control of the money supply to prevent inflation and during the 1960s was an advocate of free market policies which at the time were seen as extreme and unworkable, as well as unpopular. Powell advocated the privatisation of the Post Office and the telephone network as early as 1964, over 20 years before the latter actually took place; and he both scorned the idea of "consensus politics" and wanted the Conservative Party to become a modern businesslike party, freed from its old aristocratic and "old boy network" associations. Perhaps most notably of all, in his 1958 resignation over public spending and what he saw as an inflationary economic policy, he anticipated almost exactly the views that during the 1980s came to be described as "monetarism".

On 27 July 1959 Powell gave his speech on Hola Camp of Kenya, where eleven Mau Mau were killed after refusing work in the camp. Powell noted that some MPs had described the eleven as "sub-human" but Powell responded by saying: "In general, I would say that it is a fearful doctrine, which must recoil upon the heads of those who pronounce it, to stand in judgment on a fellow human being and to say, 'Because he was such-and-such, therefore the consequences which would otherwise flow from his death shall not flow'." Powell also disagreed with the notion that because it was in Africa then different methods were acceptable:

Denis Healey, MP from 1952 to 1992, later said this speech was "the greatest parliamentary speech I ever heard... it had all the moral passion and rhetorical force of Demosthenes". The Daily Telegraph report of the speech said that "as Mr Powell sat down, he put his hand across his eyes. His emotion was justified, for he had made a great and sincere speech".

Powell returned to the government in July 1960, when he was appointed Health Minister, albeit outside the Cabinet, but this changed in 1962. In this job he was responsible for promoting an ambitious ten-year programme of general hospital building and for beginning the neglect of the huge psychiatric institutions.In his famous 1961 "Water Tower" speech, he said:

The speech catalysed a debate that was one of several strands leading to the Care in the Community initiative of the 1980s. In 1993 however Powell claimed that his policy could have worked but had not. He claimed the criminally insane should have never been released and that the problem was one of funding. He said the new way of caring for the mentally ill would cost more, not less, than the old way because community care was decentralised and intimate as well as being "more human". His successors had not, Powell claimed, provided the money for local authorities to spend on mental health care and therefore institutional care had been neglected whilst at the same time there was not any investment in community care.

Later, he oversaw the employment of a large number of Commonwealth immigrants by the understaffed National Health Service. Prior to this, many non-white immigrants who held full rights of citizenship in Britain were obliged to take the jobs that no one else wanted (e.g. street cleaning, night-shift assembly production lines), often paid considerably less than their white counterparts.

Along with Iain Macleod, Powell refused to serve in the Cabinet following the appointment of Alec Douglas-Home as Prime Minister. This refusal was not based on antipathy to Home personally but was in protest against what Macleod and Powell saw as Macmillan's underhand manipulation of colleagues during the process of choosing a new leader. Following the Conservatives' defeat in the 1964 general election, he agreed to return to the front bench as Transport spokesman. In 1965 he stood in the first-ever party leadership election, but came a distant third to Edward Heath, who appointed him Shadow Secretary of State for Defence.

Shadow Defence Secretary

In his first speech to the Conservative Party conference as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence on 14 October 1965, Powell outlined a fresh defence policy, jettisoning what he saw as outdated global military commitments left-over from Britain's imperial past and stressing that Britain was a European power and therefore an alliance with Western European states from possible attack from the East was central to Britain's safety. He defended Britain's nuclear weapons (he did not yet advocate unilateral nuclear disarmament) and argued that it was "the merest casuistry to argue that if the weapon and the means of using it are purchased in part, or even altogether, from another nation, therefore the independent right to use it has no reality. With a weapon so catastrophic, it is possession and the right to use which count". Also, Powell called into question Western military commitments East of Suez:

The Daily Telegraph journalist David Howell remarked to Andrew Alexander that Powell had "just withdrawn us from East of Suez, and received an enormous ovation because no-one understood what he was talking about". However the Americans were worried by Powell's speech as they wanted British military commitments in South-East Asia as they were still fighting in Vietnam. A transcript of the speech was sent to Washington and the American embassy requested to talk to Heath about the "Powell doctrine". The New York Times said Powell's speech was "a potential declaration of independence from American policy". During the election campaign of 1966 Powell claimed that the British government had contingency plans to send at least a token British force to Vietnam and that, under Labour, Britain "has behaved perfectly clearly and perfectly recognisably as an American satellite". President Johnson had indeed asked Wilson for some British forces for Vietnam, and when it was later suggested to Powell that the view in Washington—that the public reaction to Powell's allegations had made Wilson realise he would not have favourable public opinion and so could not go through with it—Powell responded: "The greatest service I have performed for my country, if that is so". Labour was returned with a large majority, and Powell was retained by Heath as Shadow Defence Secretary as he believed Powell "was too dangerous to leave out".

In a controversial speech on 26 May 1967, Powell criticised Britain's post-war world role:

In 1967, Powell spoke of his opposition to the influx Kenyanmarker Asians to the United Kingdom after the African country's leader Jomo Kenyatta's discriminatory policies led to the flight of Asians from that country.

"Rivers of Blood" speech

Powell was noted for his oratorical skills, and for being a maverick. On Saturday 20 April 1968 he made a controversial speech in Birmingham, in which he warned his audience of what he believed would be the consequences of continued unchecked immigration from the Commonwealth to Britain. It was an allusion to Virgil towards the end of the speech which has been remembered and gave the speech its common title:

The main political issue addressed by the speech was not immigration as such, however. It was the introduction by the Labour Government of the Race Relations Act 1968, which Powell found offensive and immoral. The Act would prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race in certain areas of British life, particularly housing, where many local authorities had been refusing to provide houses for immigrant families until they had lived in the country for a certain number of years.

One feature of his speech was the extensive quotation of a letter he claimed to have received detailing the experiences of one of his constituents in Wolverhampton. The writer described the fate of an elderly woman who was supposedly the last white person living in her street. She had repeatedly refused applications from non-whites requiring rooms-to-let, which resulted in her being called a racist outside her home and receiving excrement through her letterbox.

Heath sacked Powell from his Shadow Cabinet the day after the speech, and he never held another senior political post. Powell received almost 120,000 (predominantly positive) letters and a Gallup poll at the end of April showed that 74% of those asked agreed with his speech. After The Sunday Times branded his speeches "racialist", Powell sued it for libel, but withdrew when he was required to provide the letters he had quoted from.

Powell had issued an advance copy of his speech to media personnel and their appearance at the speech may have been due to the fact that they realised the content was explosive.

During July 1965 he had come third in the Conservative Party leadership contest, obtaining only 15 votes, just below the result Hugh Fraser gained. After the 'Rivers of Blood' speech, however, Powell was transformed into a national public figure and won huge support across Britain. Three days after the speech, on 23 April, as the Race Relations Bill was being debated in the House of Commonsmarker, 1,000 dockers marched on Westminster protesting against Powell's "victimisation", and the next day 400 meat porters from Smithfield market handed in a 92-page petition in support of Powell.

"Morecambe Budget"

Powell made a speech in Morecambemarker on 11 October 1968 on the economy, setting out alternative, radical free-market policies which would later be called the 'Morecambe Budget'. Powell used the financial year of 1968-9 to show how income tax could be halved from 8s 3d to 4s 3d in the pound (basic rate cut from 41% to 21%) and how capital gains tax and selective employment tax could be abolished without reducing expenditure on defence or the social services. These tax reductions required a saving of £2,855 million, and this would be funded by eradicating losses in the nationalised industries and denationalising the profit-making state concerns; ending all housing subsidies except for those who could not afford their own housing; ending all foreign aid; ending all grants and subsidies in agriculture; ending all assistance to development areas; ending all investment grants; abolishing the National Economic Development Council and abolishing the Prices and Incomes Board. The cuts in taxation would also allow the state to borrow from the public to spend on capital projects such as hospitals and roads and spend on the firm and humane treatment of criminals.

House of Lords reform

During the summer of 1968 The House of Lords in the Middle Ages was published after 20 years' work. At the press conference for its publication, Powell said if the government introduced a Bill to reform the Lords he would be its "resolute enemy". Later in 1968, when the government published its Bills for the new session, Powell was angry at Heath's acceptance of the plan drawn up by the Conservative MP Iain Macleod and Labour's Richard Crossman to reform the Lords, titled the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. Crossman, opening the debate on 19 November, said the government would reform the Lords in five ways: removing the voting rights of hereditary peers; making sure no party had a permanent majority; in normal circumstances the government of the day would have a working majority; to weaken the Lords' powers to delay laws; and to abolish their power to refuse to consent to subordinate legislation if it had been voted for by the Commons.

Powell spoke in the debate, opposing these plans. He said the reforms were "unnecessary and undesirable" and that there was no weight in the claim that the Lords could "check or frustrate the firm intentions" of the Commons. He claimed that only election or nomination could replace the hereditary nature of the Lords. If they were elected it would pose the dilemma of which House was truly representative of the electorate.He also had another objection: "How can the same electorate be represented in two ways so that the two sets of representatives can conflict and disagree with one another?" Those nominated would be bound to the Chief Whip of their party through a sort of oath and Powell asked "what sort of men and women are they to be who would submit to be nominated to another chamber upon condition that they will be mere dummies, automatic parts of a voting machine?" The inclusion of 30 cross-benchers was "a grand absurdity" because they would have been chosen "upon the very basis that they have no strong views of principle on the way in which the country ought to be governed". Powell claimed the Lords derived their authority not from a strict hereditary system but from its prescriptive nature: "It has long been so, and it works". He then added that there was not any widespread desire for reform: he indicated a recent survey of working-class voters which showed only a third of them wanted to reform or abolish the Lords, with another third believing the Lords were an "intrinsic part of the national traditions of Britain". Powell deduced from this that "As so often the ordinary rank and file of the electorate have seen a truth, an important fact, which has escaped so many more clever people – the underlying value of that which is traditional, that which is prescriptive".

After more speeches against the Bill during early 1969, and with left-wing Labour MPs against Lords reform as well (they wanted abolition), Harold Wilson announced on 17 April that the Bill was being rescinded. Wilson's statement was brief, with Powell intervening: "Don't eat them too quickly", which provoked much laughter in the House. Later that day Powell said in a speech to the Primrose League:

Powell's biographer Simon Heffer has described the defeat of Lords reform as "perhaps the greatest triumph of Powell's political career".

During 1969, when it was first suggested that the United Kingdom would join the European Economic Community, Powell spoke openly of his opposition to the country joining this common market.

Later life in politics

Departure from the Conservative Party

Powell's popularity appeared to contribute to the Conservatives' surprise victory in the 1970 General Election, which showed a late surge in Conservative support in the West Midlands, near Powell's constituency. In "exhaustive research" on the election, the American pollster Douglas Schoen and University of Oxfordmarker academic R.W. Johnson believed it "beyond dispute" that Enoch Powell had attracted 2.5 million votes to the Conservatives. Johnson later wrote that "It became clear that Powell had won the 1970 election for the Tories... of all those who had switched their vote from one party to another in the election, 50 per cent were working class Powellites. Not only had 18 per cent of Labour Powellites switched to the Tories but so had 24 per cent of Liberal Powellites". Johnson further believed that the votes Powell brought to the Conservatives were "quite possibly four or five million". A Daily Express poll in 1972 showed Powell being the most popular politician in the country.

In a defence debate in March 1970 he claimed that "the whole theory of the tactical nuclear weapon, or the tactical use of nuclear weapons, is an unmitigated absurdity" and that it was "remotely improbable" that any group of nations engaged in war would "decide upon general and mutual suicide", and advocated enlargement of Britain's continental army. However when fellow Conservative Julian Amery later in the debate criticised Powell for his anti-nuclear pronouncements, Powell responded: "I have always regarded the possession of the nuclear capability as a protection against nuclear blackmail. It is a protection against being threatened with nuclear weapons. What it is not a protection against is war". However, Powell would later criticise this theory of nuclear deterrence.

Powell had voted against the Schuman plan during 1950 and had supported entry only because he believed that the Common Market was simply a means to secure free trade. During March 1969 he opposed Britain's joining the European Economic Community. Opposition to entry had hitherto been confined largely to the Labour Party but now, he said, it was clear to him that the sovereignty of Parliament was in question, as was Britain's very survival as a nation. This nationalist analysis attracted millions of middle-class Conservatives and others, and as much as anything else made Powell the implacable enemy of Heath, a fervent pro-European, but there was already enmity between the two.

The Conservatives had promised at the 1970 election that in relation to the Common Market "Our sole commitment is to negotiate; no more, no less". When Heath signed an accession treaty before Parliament had even debated the issue, when the second reading of the Bill to put the Treaty into law passed by just eight votes on second reading, and when it became clear that the British people would have no further say in the matter, he declared hostility to his party's line. He voted against the government on every one of the 104 divisions in the course of the European Communities Bill. When finally he lost this struggle, he decided he could no longer sit in a parliament that he believed was no longer sovereign. During the summer of 1972 he prepared to resign, and changed his mind only because of fears of a renewed wave of immigration from Uganda after the accession of Idi Amin, who had expelled Uganda's Asian residents.

During 1972, the same year that he spoke publicly of his opposition to the immigration of Ugandan Asians, Powell was also defeated in his struggle against the European Communities Bill, which helped prepare the United Kingdom to join the common market, which he had spent three years campaigning to prevent from happening.

However, during February 1974 Powell left the Conservative Party, mainly because it had taken the UK into the EEC and because it abandoned its manifesto commitments and he therefore could not advocate it at the election. The monetarist economist Milton Friedman sent Powell a letter praising him as principled. Powell had his friend Andrew Alexander talk with Labour Party leader Harold Wilson's press secretary, Joe Haines, on Powell's timing of his speeches against Heath. Powell had been talking with Wilson irregularly since June 1973 during chance meetings in the gentlemen's toilets of the aye lobby in the House of Commons. Wilson and Haines had ensured that Powell would dominate the newspapers of the Sunday and Monday before election day by having no Labour front bencher give a major speech on 23 February, the day of Powell's speech. Powell gave this speech at the Mecca Dance Hall in the Bull Ring, Birminghammarker to an audience of 1,500, with some press reports estimating that 7,000 had to be turned away. Powell said the issue of British membership of the EEC was one where "if there be a conflict between the call of country and that of party, the call of country must come first":

Powell went on to criticise the Conservative Party for obtaining British membership despite promising at the general election that they would "negotiate: no more, no less" and that Britain needed "the full-hearted consent of Parliament and people" if Britain were to join. He also denounced Heath for accusing his political opponents of lacking respect for Parliament whilst being "the first Prime Minister in three hundred years who entertained, let alone executed, the intention of depriving Parliament of its sole right to make the laws and impose the taxes of this country". He then advocated a vote for the Labour Party:

This call to vote Labour surprised some of Powell's supporters who were more concerned with beating socialism than the loss of national independence. On 25 February he made another speech at Shipley urging a vote for Labour and saying he did not believe the claim that Wilson would renege his commitment to renegotiation, which to Powell was ironic considering Heath's premiership: "In acrobatics Harold Wilson, for all his nimbleness and skill, is simply no match for the breathtaking, thoroughgoing efficiency of the present Prime Minister". At this moment a heckler shouted "Judas!" Powell responded: "Judas was paid! Judas was paid! I am making a sacrifice!" Later in the speech Powell said: "I was born a Tory, am a Tory and shall die a Tory. It is part of me... it is something I cannot alter". During 1987 Powell said there was no contradiction between urging people to vote Labour whilst proclaiming to be a Tory: "Many Labour members are quite good Tories".

Powell, in an interview on 26 February, said he would be voting for Helen Middleweek, the Labour candidate, rather than the Conservative Nicholas Budgen. When on 1 March Powell saw The Times headline "Mr Heath's general election gamble fails" he reacted by singing Te Deum. The election result was a "hung parliament" with Labour five seats ahead of the Conservatives. The national swing to Labour was 1 per cent; 4 per cent in Powell's heartland, the West Midlands conurbationmarker; and 16 per cent in his old constituency (although Budgen won the seat). Both Powell and Heath believed that Powell was responsible for the Conservatives losing the election.

Ulster Unionist Party

In a sudden general election in October 1974, Powell returned to Parliament as Ulster Unionist MP for South Down, having rejected an offer to stand as a candidate for the National Front. He repeated his call to vote Labour due to their policy on the EEC.

Since 1968 Powell had been an increasingly frequent visitor to Northern Irelandmarker, and in keeping with his general British nationalist viewpoint he sided strongly with the Ulster Unionists in their desire to remain a constituent part of the United Kingdom. From early 1971 he opposed, with increasing vehemence, Heath's approach to Northern Ireland, the greatest breach with his party coming over the imposition of direct rule in 1972. He was a strong believer in the United Kingdom, and he believed that it would survive only if the Unionist strove to integrate completely with the United Kingdom by abandoning the devolved rule that Northern Ireland had enjoyed until recently. He refused to join the Orange Institution – the first Ulster Unionist MP at Westminster never to be a member (and to date only one of three, the others being Ken Maginnis and Lady Hermon), and he was an outspoken opponent of the more extremist Unionism espoused by the Reverend Ian Paisley and his supporters.

In the aftermath of the 21 November 1974 Birmingham pub bombings by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), the government passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act. During its second reading Powell warned of passing legislation "in haste and under the immediate pressure of indignation on matters which touch the fundamental liberties of the subject; for both haste and anger are ill counsellors, especially when one is legislating for the rights of the subject". He said terrorism was a form of warfare which could not be prevented by laws and punishments but by the aggressor's certainty that the war was impossible to win.

When Heath called a leadership election at the end of 1974, Powell claimed they would have to find someone who was not a member of the Cabinet "which, without a single resignation or public dissent, not merely swallowed but advocated every single reversal of election pledge or party principle".

During the 1975 referendum on British membership of the EEC, Powell campaigned unsuccessfully for a 'No' vote. On 23 March 1977, in a vote of confidence against the minority Labour government, Powell, along with a few other Ulster Unionists, abstained. The government won by 322 votes to 298, and remained in power for another two years.

During 1983 his local agent was Jeffrey Donaldson, later an Ulster Unionist MP before defecting to the DUP.

Powell claimed that the only way to stop the PIRA was for Northern Ireland to be an integral part of the United Kingdom, treated no differently from any other of its constituent parts. He claimed the ambiguous nature of the province's status, with its own parliamentmarker and prime minister, gave hope to the PIRA that it could be detached from the rest of the UK:

Nonetheless in the 1987 general election which he lost, Powell campaigned in Bangor for James Kilfedder, the devolutionist North Down Popular Unionist Party MP, and against Robert McCartney who was standing as a Real Unionist on a policy of integration and equal citizenship for Northern Ireland.

In Powell's later career as an Ulster Unionist MP he continued to criticise the United States, and claimed that the Americans were trying to persuade the British to surrender Northern Ireland into an all-Irish state because the condition for Irish membership of NATO, Powell claimed, was Northern Ireland. The Americans wanted to close the 'yawning gap' in NATO defence that was the southern Irish coast to northern Spain. Powell had a copy of a State Department Policy Statement from 15 August 1950 in which the American government said that the 'agitation' caused by partition in Ireland "lessens the usefulness of Ireland in international organisations and complicates strategic planning for Europe". "It is desirable", the document continued, "that Ireland should be integrated into the defense planning of the North Atlantic area, for its strategic position and present lack of defensive capacity are matters of significance.

Relations with Thatcher

During February 1975, after winning the leadership election, Margaret Thatcher refused to offer Powell a Shadow Cabinet place because "he turned his back on his own people" by leaving the Conservative Party exactly 12 months earlier and telling the electorate to vote Labour.

Powell replied she was correct to exclude him because, "In the first place I am not a member of the Conservative Party and secondly, until the Conservative Party has worked its passage a very long way it will not be rejoining me". Powell also attributed Thatcher's success to luck, saying that she was faced with "supremely unattractive opponents at the time".

Though he voted with the Conservatives in a vote of confidence that brought down the Labour government on 28 March, Powell did not welcome the victory of Margaret Thatcher in the May 1979 election. "Grim" was Powell's response when he was asked what he thought of Thatcher's victory, because he believed she would renege like Heath did in 1972. During the election campaign, Thatcher, when questioned, again repeated her vow that there would be no position for Powell in her cabinet if the Conservatives won the forthcoming General Election. Powell wrote to Callaghan after the general election, expressing his sincere sorrow.

Powell later came to appreciate and praise Thatcher's patience and tenacity in getting her own way. He backed Thatcher for declaring war on Argentinamarker in April 1982 following their invasion of the Falkland Islandsmarker - a conflict which the United Kingdom won just over two months later. Although he was on supposedly good terms with Thatcher (she claimed her own monetarist policies stemmed from Powell's), to which he remarked drily, "A pity she did not understand them!", he remained at odds with Thatcher over her pro-American foreign policy and her support for nuclear weapons.

Powell later came into conflict with Thatcher during November 1985 because of her support for the Anglo-Irish Agreement, resigning his seat in protest and then regaining it at the ensuing by-election. However, after Thatcher's Bruges speech during September 1988 and her increasing hostility to the abolition of the pound sterling in the last years of her premiership, Powell made many speeches publicly supporting her attitude to Europe. During early September 1989 a collection of Powell's speeches on Europe was published titled Enoch Powell on 1992 (1992 being the year set for the European Single Market). In a speech at Chatham Housemarker for the launch of the book on 6 September, he advised Thatcher to fight the next general election on a nationalist theme as many Eastern European nations previously under Russian rule were gaining their freedom. At the Conservative Party conference in October he told a fringe meeting: "I find myself today less on the fringe of that party than I have done for 20 years".

On 5 January 1990, addressing Conservatives in Liverpool, Powell claimed that if the Conservatives played the "British card" at the next general election they could win; that the new mood in Britain for "self-determination" had given the newly independent nations of Eastern Europe a "beacon", adding that Britain should stand alone, if necessary, for European freedom. Five days after this speech, in an interview for The Daily Telegraph, Thatcher praised Powell: "I have always read Enoch Powell's speeches and articles very carefully... I always think it was a tragedy that he left. He is a very, very able politician. I say that even though he has sometimes said vitriolic things against me".

When Thatcher was challenged by Michael Heseltine for the leadership of the Conservative Party during November 1990, Powell said he would rejoin the party – which he had left in February 1974 over the issue of Europe – if Thatcher won, and would urge the public to support both her and, in Powell's view, national independence. When asked if it was true that he would join the Conservative Party he replied "it is more to with whether the Conservative Party has joined me" As it turned out she resigned, and Powell never rejoined the Conservative party. Powell also had a detached and philosophical view about Thatcher's downfall.

Parliamentary career during the 1980s

In 1980 Powell described the boycott of the Moscow Olympics - following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan - as 'pathetic to the point of farce'.. In the 1980s Powell began espousing the policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. In a debate on the nuclear deterrent on 3 March 1981 Powell claimed that the debate was now more political than military; that Britain did not possess an independent deterrent and that through NATO Britain was tied to the nuclear deterrence theory of the United States. In the debate on the address shortly after the general election of 1983, Powell picked up on Thatcher's willingness, when asked, to use nuclear weapons in the "last resort". Powell gave a scenario of what he though the last resort would be, namely that the Soviet Union would be ready to invade Britain and had used a nuclear weapon on somewhere such as Rockallmarker to demonstrate their willingness to use it:

Powell went on to say that if the Soviet invasion had already begun and Britain deployed a retaliatory strike the results would be the same: "We should be condemning, not merely to death, but as near as may be the non-existence of our population". To Powell an invasion would take place with or without Britain's nuclear weapons and therefore there was no point in retaining it. He said that after years of consideration he had come to the conclusion that there was no "rational grounds on which the deformation of our defence preparations in the United Kingdom by our determination to maintain a current independent nuclear deterrent can be justified".

In 1984, Powell also claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency had murdered Earl Mountbatten of Burma and that the deaths of the MPs Airey Neave and Robert Bradford were carried out by the USA in order to stop Neave's policy of integration for Northern Ireland. Then in 1986 he again argued that Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) had not killed Airey Neave but that "MI6marker and their friends" were responsible instead, claiming to have been told so by RUC officers. Margaret Thatcher however, both rejected and dismissed these claims.

Enoch Powell lost his seat in the 1987 general election to the Social Democratic Labour Party's Eddie McGrady, mainly due to demographic and boundary changes which resulted in there being many more Catholics in the constituency than before. Ironically, the boundary changes had arisen due to his own campaign for the number of MPs representing Northern Ireland to be increased to the equivalent proportion for the rest of the United Kingdom, as part of the steps towards greater integration. He was offered a life peerage, which was regarded as his right as a former cabinet minister, but declined it. He argued that, as he had opposed the Life Peerages Act 1958, it would be hypocritical for him to take one.

Post-parliamentary life

He was critical of the Special Air Servicemarker (SAS) shootingsmarker of three unarmed IRA members in Gibraltarmarker in March 1988.

Powell claimed in an article for The Guardian on 7 December 1988 that the new Western-friendly foreign policy of Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev heralded "the death and burial of the American empire". In spring 1989 he made a programme for the BBC (broadcast in July) on his visit to Russia and his impressions on that country. This included going to the graves of 600,000 people who died during the siege of Leningrad and saying that he could not believe a people who had suffered so much would willingly start another war. He also went to a veterans' parade (wearing his own medals) and talked with Russian soldiers with the aid of an interpreter. However the programme was criticised by those who believed that Powell had dismissed the Soviet Union's threat to the West since 1945, so impressed had he been with Russia's sense of national identity.

When German reunification was on the agenda in 1990, Powell claimed that Britain urgently needed to create an alliance with the Soviet Union in view of Germany's effect on the balance of power in Europe.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990, Powell claimed that, because Britain was not an ally of Kuwait in the "formal sense" and because the balance of power in the Middle East had ceased to be a British concern after the end of the British Empire, Britain should not go to war. Powell claimed that "Saddam Hussein has a long way to go yet before his troops come storming up the beaches of Kentmarker or Sussex"; after Britain claimed to be defending small nations from attack, Powell said "I sometimes wonder if, when we shed our power, we omitted to shed our arrogance".

Last years

In the autumn of 1992, at the age of 80, Powell was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's disease. 1994 was marked by the publication of The Evolution of the Gospel, A New Translation of the First Gospel with Commentary and Introductory Essay. During the final years of his life he managed occasional pieces of journalism and co-operated in a BBC documentary about his life in 1995. When Labour won the 1997 General Election, Powell told his wife that the electorate had voted to break up the United Kingdom. By this time Powell had been hospitalised several times as a result of a succession of falls.

When William Hague was elected Conservative party leader in June 1997, Powell refused to rejoin.

Powell began, but did not complete, work on a study of the Gospel of John. It was unfinished at the time of his death, aged 85, at 4:30 a.m. on 8 February 1998 at the King Edward VII Hospital for Officers in the City of Westminstermarker, London. Powell's final words were a few hours after being admitted to hospital, he asked where his lunch was. On being told that he was being fed intravenously he remarked "I don't call that much of a lunch".

Dressed in his brigadier's uniform, Enoch Powell was buried in his regiment's plot in Warwick Cemetery, Warwickshiremarker, ten days later, after a family funeral service at Westminster Abbeymarker and a public service at St. Margaret's, Westminstermarker. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.

Personal life

On 2 January 1952 the 39-year-old Powell married 26-year-old Margaret Pamela Wilson, a former colleague from Conservative Central Office, who provided him with the settled and happy family life that was essential to his political career. They had two daughters, born in January 1954 and October 1956.

Despite his earlier atheism Powell became a devout Anglican, having thought in 1949 "that he heard the bells of St Peter's Wolverhamptonmarker calling him" while walking to his flat in his (then future) constituency. Subsequently, he became a churchwarden of St Margaret's, Westminstermarker. He spent much of his later life trying to prove, with close textual reading, that Christ had not been crucified but stoned to death.

Powell was reading Ancient Greek by the age of five, learning it from his mother. At the age of 70 he began learning his 12th and final language, Hebrew.

In August 2002 Powell appeared in the List of 100 Greatest Britons of all time (voted for by the public in a BBC nationwide poll).

Powell had remarked that "all political lives end in failure" and did not hesitate to agree that this maxim applied to his own. Like Tony Benn (a personal friend from a different political background, whom Powell had helped to renounce his peerage and so remain an elected Member of Parliament), he was seen by supporters as putting conscience and duty to his constituents before loyalty to his party or the sake of his career.

Powell's rhetorical gifts were also employed, with success, beyond politics. He was a poet of some accomplishment, with four published collections to his name: First Poems; Casting Off; Dancer's End; and The Wedding Gift. His Collected Poems appeared in 1990. He translated Herodotus' Histories and published many other works of classical scholarship. He published a biography of Joseph Chamberlain, which treated the split with Gladstone over Irish Home Rule in 1886 as the pivotal point of his career, rather than the adoption of Tariff Reform, and which contained the famous line that "all political careers, unless they are cut off at some happy juncture, end in failure". Powell published many books on political matters too, which were often annotated collections of his speeches. His political publications were often as critical of his own party as they were of Labour, often making fun of what he saw as logical fallacies in reasoning or action. His book Freedom & Reality contained many quotes from Labour party manifestos or by Harold Wilson which he regarded as nonsensical.

One Young Conservative got up in a private meeting at the House of Commons to express his support for Mr Powell, "Mr Powell, I am a great supporter of your views......" he was interrupted by Powell. "I do not get letters of support from you, I do not get financial rewards for your support, what is the nature of your support?" he said in his monotone voice. The youth blushed and sat down.

Political beliefs

Powell said "I have and always will set my face like flint against making any difference between one citizen of this country and another on grounds of his origins." In The Trial of Enoch Powell, a Channel 4 television broadcast in April 1998, on the thirtieth anniversary of his Birmingham speech (and two months after his death), 64% of the studio audience voted that Powell was not a racist. However, some in the Church took a different view: upon his death the Bishop of Croydon stated "Enoch Powell gave a certificate of respectability to white racist views which otherwise decent people were ashamed to acknowledge."

The conservative commentator Bruce Anderson has noted that the "Rivers of Blood" speech would have come as a complete surprise to anyone who had studied his record: he had been a West Midlands MP for 18 years but had said hardly anything about immigration. On this view, the speech was merely part of a badly miscalculated strategy to become party leader if Ted Heath should fall. Anderson adds that the speech had no effect on immigration, except to make it more difficult for the subject to be discussed rationally in polite society.

Powell's detractors often assert that he was 'far-right', 'proto-fascist' or 'racist'. The first two charges clash with his voting record on most social issues, such as homosexual law reform—he was actually co-sponsor of a Bill on this issue during May 1965—and the abolition of the death penalty, both liberal reforms which had limited support in the Conservative Party at the time, although he did little to call public attention to his stance on these non-party "issues of conscience".

Powell voted against the reinstitution of the death penalty, in 1969, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1987. Although substantial sections of the public supported Powell on the issues for which he was better known, most of the "liberal intelligentsia" tended to denounce him as a racist. For some, this charge seems unconvincing in the context of Powell's pre-political actions, and it was not until the late 1960s that he made speeches on immigration and nationality. On this view, he is perhaps better classified as a romantic British nationalist than any sort of fascist: like Michael Foot from the other end of the political spectrum (with whom he joined forces on constitutional issues such as defeating House of Lords reform and opposing Britain's entry to the European Community), he was an ardent constitutionalist, worshipping Parliament as the protector of democracy, whereas most actual fascists want to abolish the democratic institutions.

Powell's speeches and TV interviews throughout his political life displayed a suspicion towards "the Establishment" in general, and by the 1980s there was a regular expectation that he would make some sort of speech or act in a way designed to upset the government and ensure he would not be offered a life peerage (and thus be transferred to the House of Lordsmarker), which he had not any intention of accepting so long as Edward Heath sat in the Commons. (Heath remained in the Commons until after Powell's death.) He had opposed the 1958 Life Peerages Act and felt it would be hypocritical to accept a life peerage himself, while no Prime Minister was ever willing to offer him a hereditary peerage.


Enoch Powell sat for sculptor Alan Thornhill for a portrait in clay. The correspondence file relating to the Powell portrait bust is held as part of the Thornhill Papers (2006:56) in the archive of the Henry Moore Foundationmarker's Henry Moore Institutemarker in Leedsmarker and the terracotta remains in the collection of the artist.

There are 24 images of Powell in the National Portrait Gallerymarker Collection including work by Bassano and Anne-Katrin Purkiss

The NPG collection includes a 1971 cartoon by Gerald Scarfe.

Selected bibliography

  • The Rendel Harris Papyri (1936)
  • First Poems (1937)
  • A Lexicon to Herodotus (1938)
  • The History of Herodotus (1939)
  • Casting-off, and other poems (1939)
  • Herodotus, Book VIII (1939)
  • Llyfr Blegywryd (1942)
  • Thucydidis Historia (1942)
  • Herodotus (1949) (translation)
  • One Nation (1950) (jointly)
  • Dancer's End and The Wedding Gift (1951) (poems)
  • The Social Services, Needs and Means (1952)
  • Change is our Ally (1954)
  • Biography of a Nation (1955, second edition 1970) (with Angus Maude), London, ISBN 0212983733
  • Great Parliamentary Occasions (1960)
  • Saving in a Free Society (1960)
  • A Nation not Afraid (1965)
  • Medicine and Politics (1966, revised edition 1976)
  • The House of Lords in the Middle Ages (1968) (with Keith Wallis)
  • Freedom and Reality (1969 [1999]), Kingswood, ISBN 0-7160-0541-7 (this volume includes the text of the Rivers of Blood speech.)
  • Common Market: The Case Against (1971)
  • Still to Decide (1972), Kingswood, ISBN 0716005662
  • Common Market: Renegotiate or Come Out (1973)
  • No Easy Answers (1973), London, ISBN 0859690016
  • Wrestling With the Angel (1977), London, ISBN 0-85969-127-6
  • Joseph Chamberlain (1977) , London, ISBN 0-500-01185-0
  • A Nation or No Nation (1978) (editor Richard Ritchie), London, ISBN 0713415428
  • On 1992 (1989) (editor Richard Ritchie), London, ISBN 1-85470-008-1
  • Reflections of a Statesman (1991) (editor Rex Collings) , London, ISBN 0947792880
  • Collected Poems (1990)
  • The Evolution of the Gospel (1994)

Related articles


  1. Roth.
  2. R. D. Pearce, Enoch Powell, London, 2008
  3. The Times, 10 February 1998, Lead article (p. 1) and Letters(p. 19)
  4. Heffer.
  5. Roth, pp. 18-20.
  6. On his career as a classicist see the entry on him in vol. 3 of The Dictionary of British Classicists (2004) where various other articles on his classical scholarship are listed.
  7. Roth, p. 29.
  8. Heffer, p. 10.
  9. Heffer, p. 53.
  10. Heffer, p. 55.
  11. Heffer, p. 75.
  12. Heffer, pp. 86-87.
  13. Heffer, p. 76.
  14. p.49 Shepherd, Robert Enoch Powell: A Biography 1996 Hutchinson
  15. Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio, 19 February 1989.
  16. Roth, pp. 51-53.
  17. Roth, p. 51.
  18. Rex Collings (ed.), Reflections of a Statesman: The Writings and Speeches of Enoch Powell (London: Bellew, 1991), pp. 195-202.
  19. Collings, pp. 199-201.
  20. Heffer, p. 184.
  21. Collings, p. 230.
  22. Roth, pp. 99-100.
  23. Roth, pp. 180-189.
  24. Roth, p. 318.
  25. Roth, p. 319.
  26. "'One per cent not a triviality': Mr. Powell tells of dilemma", The Times, London, 10 January 1958, p.8.
  27. Collings, pp. 206-7.
  28. Heffer, p. 252.
  29. Heffer, p. 254.
  30. Roth, pp. 229 ff.
  31. Roth, p. 270.
  32. Heffer, p. 941.
  33. Roth, p. 255.
  34. Roth, pp. 302-303 and p. 315.
  35. Roth, p. 316.
  36. Roth, pp. 327 ff.
  37. Enoch Powell, Freedom and Reality (Eliot Right Way Books, 1969), p. 224.
  38. Heffer, pp. 391-2.
  39. Heffer, p. 406.
  40. Heffer, p. 410.
  41. Simon Heffer's biography, Like The Roman, discusses the pre-publicity on page 449. Powell is quoted as remarking to Clem Jones, editor of the local newspaper, that his speech was "going to go up 'fizz' like a rocket". The cameras were from ATV, whose news editor had received an early copy.
  42. Roy Lewis, Enoch Powell: Principle in Politics (Cassell, 1979), p. 69.
  43. Heffer, p. 484.
  44. Robert Shepherd, Enoch Powell. A Biography (London: Pimlico, 1997), pp. 375-6.
  45. Heffer, p. 485.
  46. Heffer, pp. 485-6.
  47. Heffer, p. 474.
  48. Heffer, p. 489.
  49. Heffer, p. 495.
  50. Heffer, p. 496.
  51. Heffer, p. 497.
  52. Heffer, p. 521.
  53. Heffer, p. 568.
  54. Heffer, p. 549.
  55. Heffer, p. 703.
  56. Heffer, pp. 701-2.
  57. Heffer, pp. 704-5.
  58. Collings, pp. 456-7.
  59. Heffer, p. 707.
  60. Heffer, pp. 708-9.
  61. Heffer, p. 709.
  62. Shepherd, p. 404.
  63. Heffer, p. 709-10.
  64. Heffer, p. 710.
  65. Heffer, p. 712.
  66. Heffer, pp. 732-3.
  67. Heffer, p. 742.
  68. Heffer, p. 745.
  69. See also advertisement in Co Down Spectator of 4 June 1987 from South Down Unionists (with photograph of Powell) calling for return of Kilfedder.
  70. Heffer, p. 635.
  71. Heffer, p. 747.
  72. The Times, London, 13 February 1975.
  73. Heffer, p. 927.
  74. Heffer, p. 928.
  75. Heffer, p. 934.
  76. Kensington Conservative Dinner
  77. Simon Heffer -The Daily Mail - November 18, 1998
  78. Heffer, p. 843.
  79. Heffer, p. 877.
  80. Heffer, p. 881.
  81. Heffer, p. 906.
  82. Heffer, p. 918.
  83. Heffer, p. 922.
  84. Heffer, p. 925.
  85. Heffer, p. 933.
  86. Heffer p. 130
  87. Letter from Enoch Powell in the Wolverhampton Express and Star, October 1964, quoted in Humphry Berkeley, "Mr Powell: still Yesterday's Man", The Times, London, 5 September 1972, p.12.
  88. "Bishops criticise Abbey over Powell honour", Irish Times, Dublin, 16 February 1998, p.14.
  89. Bruce Anderson, "Enoch Powell made the Rivers of Blood speech out of ambition, not conviction", The Independent, London, 5 November 2007.
  90. Roth, p. 369.
  91. portrait head of Enoch Powell image of sculpture


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