Pamela Powell: The Wife Who Backed Enoch Powell Through the ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech and Beyond

Marcus Williamdon, Independent, November 20, 2017

Pamela Powell, who has died aged 91, was for more than four decades the wife of the Conservative firebrand politician Enoch Powell. She steadfastly supported the controversial figure throughout his long career in politics. Charles Moore wrote of her in The Daily Telegraph: “She displays all the warm common sense without which her otherwise lonely husband would surely have gone off the rails.”

Born Pamela Wilson in 1920s Liverpool, she was the daughter of an army colonel in British India. As an adult she recalled having left school aged 16, being keen to “get into the war” and to marry “an interesting man”. She fulfilled the first of her wishes, following secretarial college, by being taken on as a typist at the Ministry of Defence.

She met Enoch Powell while working at Conservative Central Office but had turned down his first marriage proposal on the grounds that “my father would never allow me to marry a teetotaller”. He proposed a second time “at his bachelor pad in Earl’s Court” in London, and they were married in 1952.

Before entering politics, Enoch had been a classicist and published poet. Following his election in 1950 as MP for Wolverhampton South, he no longer published verse. But he continued to write a poem for Pamela every year on their wedding anniversary, with a bunch of roses, one for each year of their marriage.

When he proposed, he had warned her to brace for “—poverty and a life on the back benches”, Pamela recalled in an interview for the 2012 compilation book Enoch at 100 – “I just laughed, of course, and said ‘Yes’.”

In that interview, her first ever, Pamela claimed that her supposedly racist husband had as early as in 1946 walked out of the Byculla Club in Pune because it only allowed whites – causing embarrassment with the Indian friend who was accompanying him.

Her job in the Conservative Research Department came about because of “socialist government’s dollar shortage”. She landed a job in 1944 at the Ministry of Defence as a “temporary shorthand typist Grade 2 at £2 10 shillings week.” This signed her up to the Official Secrets Act. Before long she was in New York at the UK delegation of the Military Staff Committee in 1947 working from an office in the Empire State Building.

She was enjoying life in the Big Apple: “Twenty-two officers and six girls. We had a lovely time as you can imagine,” she said. Her boss, a Captain Coleridge, tried to keep her but the dollar shortage being suffered by European economies meant she had to return home “on my own on the Queen Elizabeth.”

On her return she had resolved to leave the Civil Service and the MoD. The woman who had trained her and supplied Whitehall with staff advised her to work for the Conservatives, and she was sent for an interview at the party secretariat. “And it was Enoch who interviewed me,” Pamela recalled. His secretary had just left and he was looking for a new one.

The first thing she did for him was “type his resignation letter to Churchill as secretary to the India Committee”. She described later visiting the home Churchill and taking dictation for the 1950 Conservative manifesto as “the greatest thrill of all time”.

On 20 April 1968 Enoch Powell made his now infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech. After that, Pamela said she always felt sick when he talked about immigration. Asked if she found this unfair on her, she said no “because this was her career. But I wished to God sometimes it wasn’t happening.”

Three days later on St George’s Day, the Race Relations Bill, destined to outlaw race discrimination, was debated in Parliament. Although Powell refrained from speaking, several Conservative MPs referred to his earlier discourse and expressed their support for what he had said. Following the speech and the ensuing debates in the media, Pamela recalled how she would worry for his safety, watching television every evening to see if he had survived the day.

A once promising ministerial career had been cut short for Enoch Powell, who was dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet by Edward Heath. But the fallout was felt not only in Westminster circles, as the Powells found themselves deserted by former friends who felt that the politician had gone too far.

Opposed to the UK joining the common market, Enoch left the Conservatives in 1974 for the Ulster Unionist Party. But when Labour won the general election in 1997, Pamela rejoined the Conservative Party. Enoch died the following year, aged 85.

In 2013 the repercussions of the speech were once again felt when CJ Sansom’s novel Dominion was published. In the thriller, a “what if” story of a Britain that had appeased Hitler and become a satellite of Germany, Enoch Powell is portrayed as a Nazi sympathiser.

Pamela spoke out at the time to defend her late husband, saying: “The idea that he would be in any pro-Nazi government is absolutely ludicrous”. She added: “When Enoch went to Australia in 1937 as Professor of Greek at Sydney University, he told his first lecture that when Britain went to war he would go straight back to join up and that is what he did.”

She had lived in Pimlico, London, for the latter part of her life, cared for by her daughters, Susan and Jennifer, who survive her.

Pamela Powell, civil servant, born 28 January 1926, died 11 November 2017

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