Over the summer break I have had time and course to reflect on Enoch Powell and his legacy in preparation for my dissertation. Readers of this blog may recall my previous post on Powell which initially claimed that he was spot on in his assessment of the perils of unchecked immigration. As time goes on and one looks deeper in to a subject one realises that appearences can be deceptive and learns more about that which we thought we understood. I now openly acknowledge: Powell was wrong on ‘The Rivers of Blood’.
Enoch Powell was a brilliantly skilled man. He was intellectual, he was passionate and he was principled, whether you agree with his principles or not is another question. I admire him greatly for his economic views in particular. As many have already argued he was a Thatcherite before Thatcher and through his publications and campaigns, which influenced her greatly, he played a great part in the economic revival of this nation. For that at least and his commendable service to defend this country and Europe from Nazi tyranny, we owe him a debt of gratitude.
However my admiration and affiliation with his economic and patriotic principles made me take his words on immigration as a given without really digesting or understanding them. How could such a great man have got it so wrong? The Rivers of Blood speech remains as provocative now as it did when it was first muttered 40 years ago in the Midland Hotel in this very city. He prediccted that unchecked immigration would result in a full scale race war and used provocative language in order to derail the admirable Race Relations act and stir up tension. Given the problems we have faced since it is all too easy to be swept along by Powells speech without looking deeper in to it and the motives behind it.
We cannot get away from the fact that this speech was delivered in an attempt to derail the Race Relations Act which as far as I am concerned is unjustifiable. Powell’s greatest weapon, and as it turns out his greatest liability, was his intellect. A talented classicist and well-informed student of Greek and Roman politics, Powell knew all too well how the first democracies were manipulated by ambitious members of their political elites, and because of this believed that his own cunning would enable him to create and manipulate a crisis to his own political advantage. Powell was not a prophet hoping to correct a problem as many now assume, he was an oppourtunist hoping to create one.
Immigration is the hottest of hot political potates. It would be foolish to deny that Britain is a dramatically different country today than it was in 1968 and concerns over immigration are very real. In many ways immigration has been of great benefit to the country but in other equally important respects it has been poorly handled, not least by the Blair/Brown government that has all but lost control of our nation’s borders, and serious problems have arisen. Racial tensions are high and there have periodically been “rivers of blood” in the streets in the past 30 years (such as in Toxteth, Brixton, Burnley – and on 7/7). However that does not mean Powell was right, it means the politicians are wrong in the way they are handling immigration.
In the decades since Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, the BNP and their new ideological counterparts, used hate and violence to isolate ethnic groups to try to force Powells apocalyptic predictions to come true. They failed. Britain has had its fair share of serious problems, but even then, the “race war” that Enoch Powell was counting on has not happened. This gives us cause for hope. However by ignoring the issues immigration brings to the fore you will only serve to push people in to the arms of the extremists. Intolerance breeds intolerance. To want control over your borders is not racist. To expect certain conditions from our immigrants is not racist. To be concerned about whether immigrants are pulling their weight and contributing to society is not racist. Using Powell to demonise them is.
We have seen over the last few decades that there is the potential here in Britain for full scale violence to arise due to immigration, when there is an elephant in the room we should talk about it but if we are ever going to make any progress on the issue: leave Powell out of it.