Saturday, August 25, 2018

Think again about Enoch Powell...Enoch Powell and the Making of Postcolonial Britain Paperback by Camilla Schofield (Cambridge University Press)Like the Roman: A Life of Enoch Powell Hardcover by Simon Heffer (HarperCollins)Enoch at 100: A Re-Evaluation of the Life, Politics and Philosophy of Enoch Powell Paperback – August 20, 2014 by Lord Howard (Biteback Publishing);Enoch Was Right: 'Rivers of Blood' 50 Years OnApr 19, 2018 by Raheem Kassam PaperbackThe Rise of Enoch Powell by Paul Foot Hardcover by Paul Foot (Haymarket)

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John Enoch Powell MBE (16 June 1912 – 8 February 1998) was a British politician, classical scholar, author, linguist, soldier, philologist and poet. He served as a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP, 1950–74), then Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MP (1974–87), and was Minister of Health (1960–63).

Before entering politics, Powell was a classical scholar, becoming a full professor of ancient Greek at the age of 25 in Australia. During World War II, he served in both staff and intelligence positions, reaching the rank of brigadier in his early thirties. He also wrote poetry; his first works being published in 1937, as well as many books on classical and political subjects.

Powell attracted widespread attention following his 20 April 1968 address to the General Meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre, which became known as the "Rivers of Blood" speech. It pointedly criticised mass immigration into the UK, especially from the New Commonwealth and opposed the then–proposed anti-discrimination legislation Race Relations Bill being mooted at the time. In response, Conservative Party leader Edward Heath sacked Powell from his position as Shadow Defence Secretary (1965–1968) in the Conservative opposition. The speech was immediately considered by many as a blatant demonstration of racism, drawing sharp criticism from his own party and from the press. While Powell did not consider himself a racist, his rhetoric had a "lasting and malign effect...on the way in which race and migration are discussed, or not discussed."

In the aftermath of the Rivers of Blood speech, several polls suggested that between 67% and 82% of the UK population agreed with Powell's opinions. His supporters claimed that the large public following which Powell attracted helped the Conservatives to win the 1970 general election, and perhaps cost them the February 1974 general election, when Powell turned his back on the Conservatives by endorsing a vote for Labour, who returned as a minority government in early March following a hung parliament.

Powell was returned to the House of Commons in October 1974 as the Ulster Unionist Party MP for the Northern Irish constituency of South Down, serving there until he was defeated at the 1987 general election.

Rivers of Blood speech

On 20 April 1968, British Member of Parliament Enoch Powell addressed a meeting of the Conservative Political Centre in Birmingham, United Kingdom. His speech strongly criticised mass immigration, especially Commonwealth immigration to the United Kingdom and the proposed Race Relations Bill. It became known as the "Rivers of Blood" speech, although Powell always referred to it as "the Birmingham speech".

The expression "rivers of blood" did not appear in the speech but is an allusion to a line from Virgil's Aeneid which he quoted: "as I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood'."

The speech caused a political storm, making Powell one of the most talked about and divisive politicians in the country, and leading to his controversial dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet by Conservative Party leader Edward Heath. According to most accounts, the popularity of Powell's perspective on immigration may have played a decisive factor in the Conservatives' surprise victory in the 1970 general election, and he became one of the most persistent rebels opposing the subsequent Heath government.

Powell, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West, was addressing the general meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre. The Labour government's Race Relations Bill 1968 was to have its second reading three days later, and the Conservative Opposition had tabled an amendment significantly weakening its provisions. The bill was a successor to the Race Relations Act 1965.

The Birmingham-based television company ATV saw an advance copy of the speech on the Saturday morning, and its news editor ordered a television crew to go to the venue, where they filmed sections of the speech. Earlier in the week, Powell had said to his friend Clement ("Clem") Jones, a journalist and then editor at the Wolverhampton Express & Star, "I'm going to make a speech at the weekend and it's going to go up 'fizz' like a rocket; but whereas all rockets fall to the earth, this one is going to stay up."[5]

In preparing his speech, Powell had applied Clem Jones's advice that to make hard-hitting political speeches and short-circuit interference from his party organisation, his best timing was on Saturday afternoons, after delivering embargoed copies the previous Thursday or Friday to selected editors and political journalists of Sunday newspapers; this tactic could ensure coverage of the speech over three days through Saturday evening bulletins then Sunday newspapers, so that the coverage would be picked up in Monday newspapers.

In the speech Powell recounted a conversation with one of his constituents, a middle-aged working man, a few weeks earlier. Powell said that the man told him: "If I had the money to go, I wouldn't stay in this country... I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan't be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas." The man finished by saying to Powell: "In this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man."

Powell went on:

Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that the country will not be worth living in for his children. I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else. What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking – not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history. We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, 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. So insane are we that we actually permit unmarried persons to immigrate for the purpose of founding a family with spouses and fiancées whom they have never seen.

Powell quoted a letter he received from a woman in Northumberland, about an elderly woman living on a Wolverhampton street where she was the only white resident. The elderly woman had lost her husband and her two sons in World War II and had rented out the rooms in her house. Once immigrants had moved into the street she was living in, her white lodgers left. Two black men had knocked on her door at 7:00 am to use her telephone to call their employers, but she refused, as she would have done to any other stranger knocking at her door at such an hour, and was subsequently verbally abused.

The woman had asked her local authority for a rates reduction, but was told by a council officer to let out the rooms of her house. When the woman said the only tenants would be black, the council officer replied: "Racial prejudice won't get you anywhere in this country."

He advocated voluntary re-emigration by "generous grants and assistance" and he mentioned that immigrants had asked him whether it was possible. Powell said that all citizens should be equal before the law, and that:

This does not mean that the immigrant and his descendants should be elevated into a privileged or special class or that the citizen should be denied his right to discriminate in the management of his own affairs between one fellow-citizen and another or that he should be subjected to an inquisition as to his reasons and motives for behaving in one lawful manner rather than another.

He argued that journalists who urged the government to pass anti-discrimination laws were "of the same kidney and sometimes on the same newspapers which year after year in the 1930s tried to blind this country to the rising peril which confronted it". Powell said that such legislation would be used to discriminate against the indigenous population and that it would be "to risk throwing a match on to gunpowder".[8] Powell described what he perceived to be the evolving position of the indigenous population:

For reasons which they could not comprehend, and in pursuance of a decision by default, on which they were never consulted, they found themselves made strangers in their own country. They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated; at work they found that employers hesitated to apply to the immigrant worker the standards of discipline and competence required of the native-born worker; they began to hear, as time went by, more and more voices which told them that they were now the unwanted. On top of this, they now learn that a one-way privilege is to be established by Act of Parliament; a law which cannot, and is not intended to, operate to protect them or redress their grievances, is to be enacted to give the stranger, the disgruntled and the agent provocateur the power to pillory them for their private actions.

Powell warned that if the legislation proposed for the then-Race Relations Bill were to be passed it would bring about discrimination against the native population:

The discrimination and the deprivation, the sense of alarm and of resentment, lies not with the immigrant population but with those among whom they have come and are still coming. This is why to enact legislation of the kind before parliament at this moment is to risk throwing a match on to gunpowder.

Powell was concerned about the current level of immigration and argued that it must be controlled:

In these circumstances nothing will suffice but that the total inflow for settlement should be reduced at once to negligible proportions, and that the necessary legislative and administrative measures be taken without delay.

Powell argued that he felt that although "many thousands" of immigrants wanted to integrate, he felt that the majority did not, and that some had vested interests in fostering racial and religious differences "with a view to the exercise of actual domination, first over fellow-immigrants and then over the rest of the population". Powell's peroration of the speech gave rise to its popular title. He quotes the Sibyl's prophecy in the epic poem Aeneid, 6, 86–87, of "wars, terrible wars, / and the Tiber foaming with much blood".

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. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.

Think again about Enoch Powel

Or maybe just think at all about him, if you have bought the standard view of him, all based on one rightly notorious speech. If the late Paul Foot's book is still available I recommend it strongly. Obviously Foot starts from a far-left perspective, but actually that is not especially apparent in this interesting piece of analysis, researched with Foot's typical diligence. Foot points out that Powell had been canvassed by those in his own party with racialistic outlooks and had shown no more interest in the issue than he had ever shown in the Red Menace, which he considered nonsense. What made the difference was the 1964 general election. In that poll there was a general swing to Labour, but the west midlands went the other way, and the issue that sent them the other way was ethnic immigration. In particular the shadow foreign secretary Patrick Gordon Walker was defeated at Smethwick. The Conservative defeat in 1964 led to the resignation of Douglas-Home and an election for Tory leader, and Powell, a west midlands MP, saw a chance for himself. He seized on what he perceived as the hot issue and made the 'Tiber foaming with much blood' speech, a new theme for him, taking a dramatic not to say apocalyptic view of immigration from the Commonwealth. Heath expelled him from the shadow cabinet, he left the Tory party and voted Labour, and he reverted, as a very independent Ulster Unionist, to his well-established but less well-reported standpoints. He voted to abolish the death penalty, he voted for liberalisation of the laws on divorce, homosexuality and abortion, and he voted against the Commonwealth immigrants bills introduced by Callaghan and Maudling, describing at least one of them (very plausibly) as 'racialist'.

Not exactly your standard 'right-winger' then! In addition to all the above, he had argued as shadow defence secretary for British withdrawal from east of Suez, and he was consistently anti-American and anti-European, an opponent of nuclear weapons in or for Britain, and an advocate of an alliance with 'Russia' (as he always called the Soviet Union) based on his own view of European history. In all these positions he was relatively consistent, or at least owned up to a change of mind in the case of east of Suez. So what are we to make of that speech? Foot's analysis leads me to the view that the temptation to bid for the Tory leadership was just too strong, but Powell was such a monster of self-justification and auto-suggestion that he could not admit to himself that the speech was downright disingenuous.

I am no historian, but I guess that by 1979 a right-wing government was a historical necessity. Given the antics of the left at the time we probably got off pretty lightly -- there may have been a danger of outright fascism. Supposing we needed a right-wing prime minister, I still suspect we missed our chance of getting the best one. Powell's economics were standard free-market, like those of Keith Joseph and Joseph's disciple Margaret Thatcher. However as minister of health Powell had put them into practice with flair and imagination, to the advantage of the National Health Service which probably benefited more from him than from the lumpen Labour ministers, claiming of course the mantle of Bevan, who followed him. And we will never now know how the history of the cold war might have been different if Powell had got loose on British foreign and defence policy.

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