Who has done most to push up immigration and advance multiculturalism and political correctness in this country? Tony Blair? Gordon Brown? Whichever faceless Eurocommunist bureaucrat was in charge of the EU at any time in the past 25 years?
It is none other than J Enoch Powell, still the bogeyman of British politics 50 years after his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Birmingham on April 20, 1968 which catapulted him to a special position in the liberal Left’s chamber of horrors.
Powell, the MP for Wolverhampton and shadow defence minister, gazed into the future and warned about the dangers of large-scale immigration from other cultures, urging repatriation. The full text can be read here.
Against the background of racial violence in the US – the civil rights movement was at its climax and Martin Luther King had been assassinated two weeks earlier – the infamous part of his speech came near its end. Deploying language that was probably not much heard in Birmingham, he quoted Virgil’s Aeneid: ‘As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”.
‘That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect.’
Powell did not back into the limelight: he knew what he was doing. Although he had gone to great lengths to conceal the subject matter of his speech from colleagues and the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, he tipped off the press and told the editor of the Wolverhampton Express & Star that he was going to make a speech at the weekend: ‘You know how a rocket goes up into the air, explodes into lots of stars and then falls down to the ground? Well, this speech is going to go up like a rocket, and when it gets up to the top, the stars are going to stay up.’
They certainly did. The news editor of ATV saw an advance copy of the speech and sent a camera crew. Powell’s speech led the evening news bulletins and the Sunday papers next day. That evening, Heath sacked him from the Shadow Cabinet. His speech was denounced as ‘evil’ by The Times.
Beneath the chorus of disapproval from the Establishment, a Gallup poll found that 73 per cent of the public agreed with the speech. The white working class were particularly supportive of Powell: dockers and meat porters marched to have him reinstated. (The white working class compounded their sin by voting Thatcher, and have been held in contempt ever since by the Left, which set about destroying their habitat and culture, not least by allowing mass immigration. They are collateral damage of Powell’s showboating.)
Fifty years on, the reverberations continue. A proposal to erect a blue plaque commemorating Powell in Wolverhampton, where he was MP for 24 years, has attracted the predictable opposition, supported by a couple of bishops and the city’s three Labour MPs.
However 70 per cent of more than 20,000 people who responded to a local newspaper survey backed the plaque, and a number offered to donate the £1,000 required to fund it.
It is worth remembering that Powell’s speech was aimed at the Labour government’s Race Relations Act 1968, which helped immigrants to get council housing without having lived in an area for any length of time. Its consequences were far-reaching. Decades of resentment about council housing have followed it.
So was Powell a racist? Arguably he was more guilty of liking the sound of his own voice, of being an intellectual snob who didn’t use a short word when a long one would do, and of having a cast-iron certainty that he knew best.
The only child of two teachers, he was an outstanding classics scholar, becoming a professor at only 25, and served with distinction during the Second World War, reaching the rank of brigadier in his early 30s. He was 40 before he married his 26-year-old secretary, and they had two daughters. He was a man of high principle, resigning from the Cabinet in 1958 in protest at government plans for increased expenditure.
His friends recalled an amusing, affable man, but others found him cool and aloof. Perhaps like many exceptionally clever people he had difficulty relating to those of lower intellectual ability (in other words everyone else), and he probably took no trouble to conceal it. Also like other gifted people, it is likely that he was naïve and lacking in common sense and judgement.
He clearly fancied himself as a seer, and any serious consideration of life in modern Britain must conclude that he was at least correct in predicting trouble ahead. Britain is now an angry, divided country. Towns and cities have been radically altered and often ghettoised. Multiculturalism is officially a failure: Trevor Phillips, the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, has said on numerous occasions that the doctrine is a failure and a ‘racket’. The director general of MI5, Andrew Parker, made a rare public appearance last year to warn the public about the serious and growing problem of Islamist terror. Yet the liberal Left establishment are not minded to admit there is anything wrong with our ‘vibrantly diverse’ society. It makes you wonder just how much blood would have to be spilled before they would admit error.
Powell started and finished his speech with two sentences which indicate that he felt it his bounden duty to tell the truth as he saw it: ‘The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils.’ ‘All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.’
Alas, by making a speech that was both highfalutin and offensively redolent of the public bar (‘piccaninnies’, ‘negroes’) the show-off Powell closed down an important debate. Serious public discussion of mass immigration was virtually impossible for decades afterwards – surely not what he had hoped to achieve. The speech ruined his own career. It energised and baited the May ’68 generation, who went on sedulously to institute and enforce political correctness and multiculturalism throughout British institutions.
Brexit was the way the silent majority jemmied open the debate that Powell inadvertently closed. However, it is too late now.
Powell opposed entry into the European Economic Community, the precursor to the EU, again going against the establishment’s consensus opinion and siding with the public. By 1972 a Daily Express poll showed that he was the most popular politician in the country despite his career being in tatters and with no hope of gaining influence again.
Mass immigration and ever-closer union with Europe were political decisions that angered millions of British people. The political establishment clearly thought that the public, having been shouted down and in effect duped, would simply accept it. Yet both issues refuse to go away. Much like the memory of Powell.