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Laurence Inman’s Blog

IMPERFECT DAY

13-03-2008

Enoch Powell

Former Wolverhampton MP Enoch Powell is back in the news because it’s 40 years since his infamous “Rivers Of Blood” rant. Laurence Inman reckons it was something else he once said that really resonates down the years.

Can it really be forty years since Enoch Powell’s famous speech?

Powell was, in many ways, an intriguing old cove. He probably lived at the wrong time; if he’d been around fifty years earlier he could well have found things a lot more comfortable.

He has two entries in the Oxford Book of Quotations, but not his most interesting: ‘All political careers end in failure.’

This is trotted out every time an old ex-minister who nearly made it finally dies. I would be willing to bet a very large sum of money that someone will say it of Michael Heseltine when he goes. Or Portillo. Or any number of embittered rivals of Thatcher. (They will probably say it of her as well.)

And yet it’s a completely obvious thing to say. A political ‘career’ is bound to fail because whatever you ‘achieve’ is always swept away and forgotten by the succeeding government.

In the whole of the last century, only Lloyd George, with the old-age pension, and Attlee, for the founding of the Welfare State, left legacies which still have relevance.

Over and above that, it’s a platitude because every life ends in failure. Heart failure, liver failure, brain failure, failure to breathe – it’s all the same. And I doubt there has ever been a single instance, in the whole history of humanity, when someone on their death-bed could honestly assure themselves that they had done everything they wanted to do in and with their life, completely and to their absolute satisfaction.

Of course not. That’s the nature of life. It’s imperfect. At every turn it’s a disappointing failure. Death itself is such a bummer. But once you accept it fully, then life can start being meaningful. It’s death that makes life an event. (And in any case, the sun will swallow the earth up in 5 billion years.)

Every so often I get sent glossy magazines from the two universities I attended, telling me what’s going on these days, and what various alumni have been up to since they left.

Sophie Smug (Classics, 1982) has just completed her eighth novel. She has been married twice and now lives in Shanghai. Reginald Turd (Economics, 1967) has been appointed Head of World Greed Inc and takes up his post in Washington as soon as he’s completed his current contract at the Moscow Centre for Entromorphic Studies.

I’m sick of it.

And it’s not because my entry would read Laurence Inman sits around all day moaning. Still.

Because I don’t, all right ? I said: All right ?

It’s the importance people attach to telling everyone else how ‘well’ they’re doing that drives me mad.

Let’s hear it for failures.

Eddie the Eagle; by failing, he won, like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, beaten senseless yet still standing.

George Dubya; everything he touched all his life turned to dust until his dad bought him the presidency, when he really fouled up.

And just last week Mark Boyle joined the ranks of the great also-stumbled. He’s the bloke who set out to walk from Bristol to Ghandi’s birthplace. He would carry nothing with him and rely solely on the charity and goodwill of people he met along the way.

He got as far as Calais.

Nobody would give him anything. They thought he was an illegal, an alien, an extra-terrestrial, trying to sneak into England. He couldn’t speak French. The realisation grew in him that he would soon die of starvation and/or exhaustion.

So he caught the first ferry back.

The press didn’t trouble him overmuch. They were too busy making up lies about somebody called Harry who’s been in Afghanistan, beating the International Terrorists single-handed.

But for me, the hero of the year so far is Mark Boyle.

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