My silence on the environmental consequences of the forthcoming UK general election is not deliberate. I have been waiting for the major political parties to make significant policy announcements and whilst the media is full of speculation about stances on the economy, health and immigration, the lack of interest in the environment until now is ominous. However, whilst I was pondering these matters, I remembered an encounter with a controversial and notoriously Eurosceptic politician twenty years ago.
When I first shook myself free from the fetters of Durham University, I had an aspiration of combining environmental consultancy with freelance journalism and, for a while, wrote a column for the Times Higher Education Supplement in which I interviewed well known people about their earliest forays into the academic world. One of these trips took me to a residential street on the southern fringes of Belgravia in London to interview Enoch Powell, then in his early 80s but still mentally very sharp. We sat in the first floor study of his house on a sunny afternoon in August 1995 while he told me about his first publication, the translation of some Egyptian papyri from the first and second centuries of the Common Era. My knowledge of the Classics was very limited and it was not a particularly easy interview but, after half an hour or so, I thought I had enough material. It turned out to be an easy interview to transcribe as Powell spoke in grammatically almost-perfect sentences and paragraphs. You can find the article online by clicking here although I am afraid that it is behind News International’s paywall.
As he showed me out, he asked me where I was going next. I mentioned that I was heading to Reading to a meeting with the Environment Agency, and then explained that I was working with them to implement a new European Union Directive (the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive). His facial muscles tightened and his eyes glowered behind his penetrating stare as he barked “what business is it of theirs if we poison our rivers?”