‘Enoch was right’. A remark sometimes made in below-the-line comments on political websites, but never in polite conversation. The phrase, of course, relates to the pariah figure of Enoch Powell and his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, half a century ago. The event has been marked in mainstream media as a turning point in race relations, with commentators competing for the most emphatic denunciation, as balanced discussion has been abandoned in favour of ideological positioning. In the fifty years since Powell spoke, British society has certainly been transformed by immigration, for better and worse.
As a lecturer in mental health, I mention Enoch Powell for another of his sermons. In 1961 he was the Minister of Health who announced the policy of closure of the asylums (known as the ‘Water Tower’ speech). Some students shudder on hearing his name, because they only know him as an incendiary racist. He would be ‘no-platformed’ today, if not prosecuted for inciting hate crime, but is that progress?
Let us consider what Powell said, and the context in which he said it.
In the 1960s, immigration from Britain’s former colonies was causing rapid demographic change in many industrial towns and cities, with high concentration in Birmingham and its environs. White residents were worried. To some extent displaying ignorance and prejudice, they were also stating what was happening before their eyes. Whole streets changed hands from local inhabitants to incomers in a few years. On 20th April 1968, Powell addressed the West Midlands Conservatives at the Midland Hotel, Birmingham, beginning his criticism of immigration policy by quoting one of his working-class Wolverhampton constituents: ‘If I had the money to go, I wouldn’t stay in this country…in fifteen or twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man’.
Aware that his speech would cause outrage, Powell issued a stark warning: ‘Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. We must be literally mad as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.’ He did not actually say ‘rivers of blood’, but warned: ‘Like the Roman, I see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’ Immediately he was sacked from his shadow ministerial role by Ted Heath. Since then, apart from the rehabilitative efforts of journalist Simon Heffer, few politicians or writers have dared to support Powell.
Clever and combative, Powell was the type who might have prevailed in earlier decades, but could not prosper in modern politics. Political expert David Goodhart sympathised with working class attitudes to immigration in his book The Road to Somewhere, but described Powell as an anachronism, whose prophecy of doom does not match the reality of a mixed society in which most of us live harmoniously. There is no race war. Mixed-heritage couples and their offspring have shattered simplistic racial categorisations. The younger generations, who value tolerance and diversity, look askance at the perceived regressions of their elders. Actually, the overtly racist National Front was never widely supported, and a British sense of fairness explained the success of the 1967 film To Sir with Love, in which Sidney Poitier played a West Indian teacher in a tough East End school. Gradually the colour of our institutions is changing to reflect the transformation in society, and there are now dozens of black and Asian MPs, including Cabinet members.
Like intractable Remainers, Powell saw only the threats of immigration, failing to see the opportunities. Douglas Murray, in his polemic The Strange Death of Europe, argued that the masses who have recently arrived from Africa and Asia do not simply become European. Identity, for Murray, means more than being in a particular place at a particular time. However, surveys have shown that black and Asian people have a stronger sense of Britishness than their white compatriots (I frequently hear the disdain of white middle-class students for their homeland). Fifty years after Powell’s speech, there is widespread acceptance that Britain is represented by multiple ethnicities. When Leicester City amazingly won the Premier League a few seasons ago, captain Wes Morgan was delightfully understated, a born-and-bred Englishman who humbled the prima donnas of the rich clubs. A black Brummie, Morgan is undoubtedly one of our own. Similar inclusivity is shown in the popularity of Nadiya Hussain, the celebrated hijab-wearing Muslim cook.
Yet the siren cannot be ignored. Historian Dominic Sandbrook described Powell’s observations as racist myths; for example, his anecdotal only white child in a school. After the floodgates were opened by Tony Blair, there are now swaths of cities where indigenous British children are like hens’ teeth. The liberal intelligentsia would retort: ‘So what?’ In their view, it is racist to hark back to a montage of white faces, as Vince Cable recently said of Brexit voters. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
According to the UK Statistics Authority, over a third of children born in Britain in 2016 had at least one foreign parent; in London it was two-thirds, and in Newham almost nine in ten. As Alp Mehmet of Migration Watch explained, immigration and the higher birth rates among immigrant communities is driving relentless population growth. Powell did not anticipate the unholy alliance of corporate capitalism and liberal-Left politicians that would promote an escalating influx, or the free movement imposed by the EU. Sheer pressure of numbers is causing a housing crisis, but the answer from our political establishment is not to restrict demand but to increase supply. Millions more homes are needed, but we’re not allowed to say why. Precious green space is lost; Portakabins are erected over school playgrounds; ever-higher blocks of flats proliferate. Poorer people have suffered from lower wages due to the limitless availability of foreign labour, plied with benefits equalling the earnings of a full-time occupation. Not surprisingly, many languish in idleness, bereft of purpose and pride.
Quality of life is diminished not only by environmental overload, but also by cultural discontinuity. Sadly, the process of integration has stalled in many areas, partly due to a self-loathing establishment immersed in the ideology of cultural Marxism, partly the overwheming size of diaspora communities, and partly the assertions of fundamentalist Islam. This is not just mismanagement: the Left sees immigration as a battering ram against conservativism. ‘Rubbing their noses in diversity’, an aide to Blair allegedly said. And there are vast voting blocs to nurture in a narrative of victimhood.
Confirming trouble at t’mill, the government has responded to Dame Louise Casey’s report by issuing an integration policy. Ghettoisation is a factor in festering hatred resulting in hideous acts of terrorism. A dangerous minority despises the country that took them in, as demonstrated in the Manchester pop concert bombing and the near-miss at Palmer’s Green underground station. Not far from Powell’s patch is Telford, scene of the worst of a long series of child sexual abuse scandals, whereby mostly Pakistani-origin taxi drivers and takeaway workers systematically raped underage girls, as young as 11. The authorities deny racist motives in these attacks on innocent children, as it does not fit the multicultural ideal.
Powell was not entirely wrong that blood would be spilt. But he offended sensitivities, and that ended his career. Today, we have travelled much further along the tracks of censorship. While the sensible provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976 outlawed discrimination, the law now criminalises candour. Controversial opinion, whether on Telford 2018 or Wolverhampton 1968, should be aired in a society that values freedom of speech. Challenged and refuted maybe, but not silenced. Otherwise, a script is being written for authoritarian backlash. Consider Hungary, where authoritarian Viktor Orban is revered for stemming the tide of mass migration from Muslim countries: he openly accuses Western Europe of committing cultural suicide.
If we really want to disprove Powell’s nihilistic vision, we must act. Belatedly, two objectives should be pursued. First, to build a stronger British identity throughout our diverse society, tapping into the potential of all colours and cultures. The alternative to integration is distrust and conflict. Second, a robust immigration policy should be instilled, with borders controlled not only to reduce the weight of numbers, but also – unapologetically – to preserve cultural stability. Those who angrily reject Enoch Powell should tell us honestly whether they are happy to live a in a country that is shifting inexorably towards a white British minority. No blood need be shed.
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