The recent article by Margaret Ashworth, reflecting upon the political legacy of Enoch Powell, reminded me that his widow Pamela (née Wilson) died quite recently, in November 2017, at the grand age of 91.
The Telegraph’s obituary described Mrs Powell as being amongst ‘that unique cadre of political wives who devoted everything to sustaining their husbands not just out of love, but also as a patriotic obligation’; this despite her feeling ‘physically sick whenever her husband planned to make another speech on immigration’ and constantly fearing for his safety. Pamela Powell evidently was an admirable woman and a devoted wife.
Margaret’s item also alluded to the fact that Enoch Powell did not marry until he was 40, Pamela being fourteen years his junior and having worked as his secretary. Furthermore, when she applied to the Conservatives, the young Pamela had been interviewed at the secretariat by none other than Powell himself. She was subsequently ‘thrilled’ to take dictation of the 1950 election manifesto.
On each of the Powells’ wedding anniversaries, Enoch set a dauntingly high bar for other men by presenting Pamela with a self-written poem and a rose for each year of their marriage. From this and his otherwise decorous demeanour, one imagines Enoch’s romantic overtures to Pamela to have been impeccably courteous. But envision an identical situation today, in which an older politician hires a much younger woman and then makes an amorous advance, and imagine how in the present captious climate this might be viewed and dealt with: she, encouraged to recoil and proclaim herself a victim of harassment in the workplace; he, exposed and accused of being a sexual predator, probably expelled from his party and possibly even put under police investigation.
Having already fulfilled her ambition of ‘getting into the war’ by working for the Ministry of Defence, and having enjoyed a post-war secondment to New York, in 1952 Pamela Wilson also achieved her stated aim of marrying ‘an interesting man’, one to whom she remained wed until his death in 1998. A long marriage arising from similar circumstances remains possible, but especially in the workplace it now requires a brave or foolhardy man to make what increasingly is a hazardous first move. Had today’s strictures applied 70 years ago, would the gentlemanly Enoch Powell ever have dared to woo his secretary and risk arraignment by the censorious #MeToo?