In the grey corner of north-east London where I grew up, there was a station, and by it, the closest among many, a newsagent. Like everything where we lived, the newsagent’s shopfront was unassailably urban and plain, a green plastic fascia and glass. The story went that a young woman, herself local, had entered the shop just after eleven o’clock one night. She asked for cigarettes. The owner, who was Gujarati, told her that he didn’t have a licence to sell cigarettes after eleven o’clock.
‘I was born a Tory,’ Enoch Powell said in a speech towards the end of his life, defining 'Tory' as ‘a person who regards authority as immanent in institutions’. During the Second World War, Powell spent two years in the Middle East and North Africa Commands, stationed in Cairo as secretary to the Joint Intelligence Committee. Unsatisfied, he wrote to his parents of his ‘determination to go East’. His chance came when the British, fearing the influence of Indian nationalism in the British Indian Army, sent a British general from Cairo to Delhi, allowing Powell to follow. He served as an officer in Delhi from 1943 to 1946, and ‘fell hopelessly and helplessly in love with India’. On his return to England he immediately joined the Conservative Party and resolved to become viceroy of India, studying Urdu at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to further his chances. The significance of these early experiences of war and empire is the focus of Camilla Schofield's recent study, Enoch Powell and the Making of Postcolonial Britain. He took the news of India’s independence on 15 August 1947 badly, walking the streets of London all night. ‘One’s world,’ he wrote, ‘had been altered.’