The BBC is broadcasting Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech performed by the actor Ian McDiarmid. The speech is not going to be delivered whole, but interspersed by ‘’contemporary commentary’’ — a kind of politically approved intermission to prevent viewers from digesting too much undiluted hate speech. But even this edited version has provoked the authoritarian sensibilities of the multiculturalist left. If Enoch Powell’s speech is delivered it will ‘inflame hatred’, ‘normalise’ and ‘legitimise’ racism, and presumably trigger a Srebrenica on the Thames. This broadcast must be stopped, claim ‘infuriated’ politicians and commentators. But why this outrage? Why does a speech written by a man now dead, delivered by a left-leaning actor, cause a borderline pathological response from our political commentariat? Why does the spectral figure of Enoch Powell — even after all these decades — still haunt the liberal mind? Enoch Powell’s very name causes a ripple of anxiety through the consciences of the chattering classes. Surely not only Enoch Powell, but the beliefs he embodied, are now dead, discarded in the dustbin of history as our new multicultural Britain triumphantly marches on to ever greater levels of tolerance. If multiculturalism really has worked — and that is the main liberal critique of Powell — why can’t we look at Powell from a dispassionate position of historical curiosity?
Of course the real reason why the left doesn’t want us to listen to Powell is because they know deep down that in many respects he was right. Britain hasn’t emerged as some infinitely hybridised cosmopolitan utopia. Even if some of Powell’s predictions have not been entirely fulfilled, many have turned out to be correct. The mainstream liberal narrative, that Britain simply had a wave of immigration, some people were nasty racists, and then we all adjusted and settled down into a cohesive society, is of course nonsense. Immigration since the 1948 Nationality Act has been a continual process of demographic change, with no historical precedent in our nation’s past. Immigration didn’t just ‘happen’; it still is happening and has been continuing, with some intermissions like the 1980s, with no perceivable end in sight. British society in the 1960s and 70s wasn’t really ‘multicultural’ beyond significant immigrant concentrations in a few inner city areas. We now really are changing, with white British people a minority in Birmingham, London, Slough and Luton. Eventually most major UK cities, and many provincial towns, will become ‘majority-minority’, and it’s unclear as of yet whether this is a process that will continue throughout the nation as a whole (although some such as the demographer David Coleman have predicted that the white British will constitute an ethnic minority at some point probably in 2060s).
And we are not coping with these sudden changes to our society. Beyond the relentless narrative construction by the liberal media, there is a real England out there, which is quietly but profoundly uncomfortable with the abrupt alteration of our national existence. We have witnessed increased racial residential segregation in most parts of the country, with white Britons gradually exiting many major urban centres. Reports both in 2001 (after race riots in Bradford and Oldham) and in 2016 authored by Professor Ted Cantle showed that in many areas of the country there had been a significant retrenchment of the majority population, with white populations nearly halving in some areas such as Newham and Blackburn. We are increasingly left asking the question ‘what will this country look like in 20, 30 or 50 years’ time?’ and of course no-one in the establishment can give us a reliable answer, because they don’t know themselves. Our government has engaged in a social experiment which has no theoretical end-point. We are told constantly that we are simply ‘becoming more diverse’, but we are never told how diverse. As diverse as Tower Hamlets? Tottenham? Or perhaps Newham?
Multiculturalism since the 1960s has meant in practice that we have to surrender any long term concern for the future of this country. We can no longer reliably say that there will be some sense of historical continuity, that our grandchildren will live in a society which at least in its outward forms resembles our own.
And this is why ultimately people fear Enoch Powell; he can’t be buried as some ‘reactionary’ relic of a bygone age because the concerns he raised are more relevant than ever. Recent revelations about the extent of Asian grooming gangs in places such as Telford and Newcastle, the sharply escalating homicide rate in London, and the ever prevalent terror threat, reinforce the fact that this is a nation in crisis. And in the left’s censorious response to Powell’s speech there is a tacit acceptance of the essential instability of multicultural societies. We have to have hate speech laws, increasingly draconian speech codes and the elimination of certain historical figures from our national memory, or else there would be chaos. And in this left-wing concern for social stability, this pervasive anxiety which belies the superficial optimism of multiculturalism, there is a strange mirror image of Powell’s critique of communalism and the destabilising effects of mass immigration. At least the Powellite and the authoritarian leftist can perhaps ironically agree, that diversity means greater state authority at the end of the day.
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