Enoch Powell: voice of the nation - by Ludwig James
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By Ludwig James
‘Like the Roman, I seem to see the Tiber foaming with much blood. In this country in fifteen or twenty year’s time, the black man will have the whip hand over the white man’.
- Enoch Powell, 1968.
By the 1960’s Enoch Powell had become one of the most vociferous critics of immigration into Britain. The intemperate language above, taken from his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, was not typical of Britain’s political 'representatives', and he was railed against by contemporary politicians both because of parts of its content, and the response to that content. Powell’s speech though, can be shown to be democratic and in tune with public opinion.
Despite the fact it promotes what is today called politically incorrect language-but used to be called free speech- Enoch Powell is a victim of posthumous character assassination from the political left due to an inordinate focus on this single incautious statement. To racially divide in such a way was perhaps unwise in 1968, but no more unwise than when Black MP Diane Abbott claims ‘White people love playing divide and rule’ in 'progressive' 2012.
However unlike dull Diane, Powell was one of Britain's greatest ever orators; the former is still MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, whereas the latter was greeted with pseudo-revolutionary students at university talks; many of them carrying placards adorned with swastikas alongside images of Powell to hysterically proclaim that he was a ‘racist Nazi’. This response stemmed partly from the attempt at moral equivalence between Powell and the Nazis by Tony Benn; ‘The flag of racialism which has been hoisted in Wolverhampton is beginning to look like the one that fluttered 25 years ago over Dachau and Belsen’ that disagreeable leftist had wailed. The truth though, is that Powell was no fascist, no Nazi, but a traditional conservative who admired foreign cultures and understood them far better than most of the self-styled multiculturalists who condemned him.
As Simon Heffer notes in Like the Roman, when Powell spent 1946 in India, ‘He spent an hour and a half each day talking Urdu...On his Sundays off he would ride around the environs of Delhi on his bicycle, exploring the country in ever greater depth’. Powell felt a massive affinity with the Indian People, had Indian friends, and wanted to be Viceroy. He was well-travelled and immensely multicultural in the sense that he actually understood other cultures. He didn’t just pretend to feel warm and fluffy about them.
In ‘Enoch Powell: A Biography’ , Robert Shepherd notes that ‘The Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the autumn of 1935 almost led Powell to abandon Cambridge and volunteer on the side of the Ethiopians’. Powell sided with black Ethiopians over white Italians because he felt the Italian invaders were fascist aggressors. Similarly, Powell was concerned by the treatment of a minority of Kenyan rebels by British colonial officers in the Mau Mau rebellion, because he knew it wasn't the norm of British imperial behaviour. Even Andrew Marr concedes inA History of Modern Britain that; ‘Enoch Powell made what some thought to be the greatest parliamentary speech of the century denouncing British behaviour’. What these facts reveal, is that Powell wasn’t the black-hating inveterate racist he is now often portrayed as in school history lessons and by hysterical and ignorant leftists. The reason he was against mass immigration is because he realized that true global diversity can only continue to exist if the nation state system is upheld and immigration between those states limited; that both the British culture he loved so much, and the foreign ones, must not be over-diluted by abolishing national borders. Throughout most of human history, this idea was regarded as common sense.
The ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech of 1968 must also be analysed in its historical context. It stemmed from genuine fear and frustration that mass immigration would cause social disintegration, a view which many other people held. It is the aforementioned apocalyptic imagery created by his reference to the Tiber foaming with blood which wasn’t representative of mainstream political discourse, not the fear of mass immigration the speech represented. Henry Brooke, the Home Secretary in 1962, believed that ‘the rate of net immigration is too great’. Rab Butler, Harold Wilson, and many of Powell’s contemporaries across the political spectrum also believed net immigration was too high in the 1960s.
As health minister from 1960-1962 Powell had initially encouraged immigration to Britain to fill the vacancies in the NHS. During his three years at the health department though, more migrants arrived in Britain than had disembarked in the whole of the twentieth century up to that point. This influx spurred the Conservative government into introducing the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act which included quota of 40,000 people per year and a voucher system whereby prospective immigrants would have to apply for one of three categories of immigration vouchers. Despite this attempt to curb the numbers entering Britain, it had the paradoxical effect of increasing immigration as prospective immigrants rushed in to beat the introduction of this legislation. It was ineffective, and the quota was eventually increased anyway.
The political elite-on the whole- seem to have been less hostile to immigration than the general public in the 1960s. Then, as now, politicians can cushion themselves from the effects of immigration. But Powell was aware of race problems across the Atlantic, best exemplified by the New York race riot of 1964. They were not unknown in Britain either; the 1958 Notting Hill Riot being the most notorious example. His attitudes to immigration were very typical of the political elite, but only he had the backbone to repeat the views his constituents held.
Now to the British public. A 1969 Gallup poll found that 54% of the electorate agreed with Powell. When the Conservative leader Edward Heath sacked him from the shadow cabinet, up to a thousand London Dockers marched in support of his reappointment. The Day after the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech at the Midland Hotel in Birmingham, he received twenty thousand letters from the general public, nearly all in support. These facts indicate that Powell was indeed airing the views many of his constituents held on the issue of immigration, and he was being democratic by representing them.
Enoch Powell. The Professor of Greek. The Poet. The Politician. The Biblical Scholar and the devoted family man. Now remembered in the popular imagination not for his great achievements, but for a few saucy words. What a shame.
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