Sunday 15 April 2018

“Like the Roman, I see the River Tiber foaming with blood”

"All quotations are out of context." (Enoch Powell)

Two weeks ago an extraordinary thing happened. The BBC World Service made the fiftieth anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King its first item on the world news. 

Was the fiftieth anniversary of anyone’s death ever before, since the world began, first item on the news around the world? Lenin’s perhaps, in the Soviet bloc in 1984, but not worldwide.

Two weeks after the murder of King and fifty years ago today, Enoch Powell, a member of the British Conservative Shadow Cabinet, gave his famous and misnamed 'Rivers of Blood' speech, in which he warned in very highly coloured terms of the consequences of continued immigration from the former colonies into Great Britain. 

Only some minutes of the speech were filmed (click here) and the BBC has employed an actor to read the speech, which they broadcast on Radio 4 last night. This has led to a huge outcry in England and the BBC (of all people) being accused of promoting racism. 

Even the Daily Mail was a bit shocked.

Lord Adonis, the oddly named Labour peer whose parents were immigrants and who compared Brexit to appeasing Hitler, has said that the speech would be illegal if made now. 

If he is right, and he probably is, that might in itself justify the warning Powell gave in the speech.

In fact, his lordship need not have worried, as the BBC invited a number of modern-thinking people to cut into the speech every few minutes to criticise it and agree that his dire predictions had not remotely come true.

A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country.

In the speech Enoch Powell argued that immigration should to be reduced to "negligible numbers". 

Unless this happened, he foresaw violence and famously quoted Virgil.
“Like the Roman, I see the River Tiber foaming with blood.”
He had just visited the USA and had in mind the race riots raging in American cities as he spoke, following King's death. 

His prediction of violence seemed to many to be justified when four British Muslims in 2005 killed 52 innocent civilians in explosions on the London Underground, in order to reestablish the Caliphate.

What was remarkable was that this incident, Britain’s September 11th, did not give rise to any discussion whatever in Parliament or the media about rethinking immigration rules, though immigration at that point was at unprecedented levels. 

In fact, in 2005 more immigrants entered our island than had entered in 850 years from 1100 to 1950 and this continued to be the case each year until Labour left office in 2010.

Mass murder on the tube has been followed by many other attempted massacres by Islamists and some that the police failed to foil. We all expect what has been described as a low-level insurgency to be a feature of British life for years to come.

Mr. Powell had made an earlier speech on immigration that had been ignored, but he made sure that this one was not. He told a journalist friend that his speech 
“is going to go up ‘fizz’ like a rocket; but whereas all rockets fall to earth, this one is going to stay up."
He did not, according to his biographer, expect that it would lead to his dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet. 

Nor could he know that it would lead to his becoming the most famous, most execrated and most popular politician in the country. His approval rating was 88%, but it made him loathed by many in his own party.

It led to a Mrs. Jones, with whom he had left his daughters while he made the speech, telling him that he had made a racialist speech and was no longer welcome in her and her husband’s house. 

Conservative leader Edward Heath fired Powell from the front bench, ending as it happened his career, saying the speech was
‘racialist in tone and liable to exacerbate racial tensions’.
He did not distance himself from the content or the plea for an end to immigration but he was opposed to the tone and said on television that 
"immigration must be most stringently limited and that immigrants wishing to return to their own countries should be financially helped to do so."
William (later Lord) Rees-Mogg, editor of the Times, called it in the lead editorial 'an evil speech', a comment that his son Jacob, an MP whom some want to be Prime Minister, said yesterday has stood the test of time. 

The editorial again found the speech evil because of its tone rather than substance:
'‘as Mr Heath observed, because it was racialist; that is, because it was calculated to inflame hatred between the races'’.
The background to Powell's speech is that, in response the creation in 1946 by Canada of a Canadian citizenship separate from British citizenship, it was agreed that all self-governing countries in the Commonwealth would have their own citizenships. The British Nationality Act 1948 was enacted in order (in contrast to Canada) to allow free movement for British subjects from the white dominions. However it was drafted carelessly and led, to everyone's great surprise, to a steady stream of non-white immigrants into the UK. 

Their presence was generally very unwelcome. Many MPs protested. All in the early years were Labour MPs who represented port towns where the Caribbean immigrants arrived.

Unintended consequences.

Multicultural Britain, like the British Empire which was the reason the immigrants were coming to our shores, was created in a fit of absence of mind.

Sir Winston Churchill was very strongly opposed to "coloured immigration", but complained that his ministers did not see why it was important. 

In January 1955 he suggested to the Cabinet
“Keep England White. That would be a good election slogan.”
His cabinet disagreed and nothing was done until 1962.

In 1962 immigration from the Commonwealth was restricted in a way that was intended to put a complete end to the flow. The numbers of non-whites in the country by that year had reached, according to some sources, 300,000 and according to others 400,000. 

For reasons that I do not understand, immigration increased instead, until by 1968 when Powell spoke the number of non-whites in the UK, which had been estimated at 7,000 in 1938 and at 20,000 in 1952, had reached one million.

As an indication of how the public felt, Roy Hattersley, the Labour MP,  once said on television that in 1964 virtually all his constituents wanted all non white immigrants repatriated compulsorily and asked rhetorically if he should have represented their views.

Powell’s speech began thus.
“The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils. In seeking to do so, it encounters obstacles which are deeply rooted in human nature. 
“One is that by the very order of things such evils are not demonstrable until they have occurred: at each stage in their onset there is room for doubt and for dispute whether they be real or imaginary. By the same token, they attract little attention in comparison with current troubles, which are both indisputable and pressing: whence the besetting temptation of all politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future."
The speech includes many passages that remain famous. It is the most important speech in British history following Churchill's in the war. 

This is one which is often misquoted. The words about the black man having the whip hand are not Powell's but those of his constituent.
“A week or two ago I fell into conversation with a constituent, a middle-aged, quite ordinary working man employed in one of our nationalised industries.

“After a sentence or two about the weather, he suddenly said: "If I had the money to go, I wouldn't stay in this country." I made some deprecatory reply to the effect that even this government wouldn't last for ever; but he took no notice, and continued: "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. In this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man." I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?

“The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his 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. 

“In 15 or 20 years, on present trends, there will be in this country three and a half million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants. That is not my figure. That is the official figure given to parliament by the spokesman of the Registrar General's Office.
"There is no comparable official figure for the year 2000, but it must be in the region of five to seven million, approximately one-tenth of the whole population, and approaching that of Greater London.”
He went on to say, in a famous passage:
"It almost passes belief that at this moment 20 or 30 additional immigrant children are arriving from overseas in Wolverhampton alone every week - and that means 15 or 20 additional families a decade or two hence. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. We must be mad, 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."
Some say that Powell's mistake was to use vivid and emotive language to make his points. 

Others say that immigration policy would not have changed, however he had spoken. 

Both these views are right.

Undoubtedly he was trying to make people angry about mass immigration and anger, which can be righteous or unrighteous, easily shades into less attractive emotions.

The respected American journalist Christopher Caldwell said in his  'Reflections on the Revolution in Europe' (2009):
“Although at the time Powell`s demographic projections were much snickered at, they have turned out not just roughly accurate but as close to perfectly accurate as it is possible for any such projections to be: In his Rotary Club speech, [November 16 1968] Powell shocked his audience by stating that the nonwhite population of Britain, barely over a million at the time, would rise to 4.5 million by 2002. (According to the national census, the actual “ethnic minority” population of Britain in 2001 was 4,635,296.)”
According to the 2011 census, the non-white population of the UK was over 7.5 million. 

Powell claimed to be speaking for ordinary working class people. Was he?

Undoubtedly, for many of them. Hence his popularity in the polls. Forty-six years later 25% of British people asked in a survey in 2014 said that they would like all immigrants to be deported. A further 23% declined to answer the question. Sep 17 of the survey here.

Enoch Powell was wrongly accused of racism despite his love for India and Indians - he learnt Urdu whilst serving in India in the war, had Indian friends and it was his dream before India was given independence to be Viceroy. Unlike racists, Powell wanted intermarriage between racial groups in order that they might integrate, but doubted integration would happen. 

Churchill, on the other hand, was very outspoken about his dislike of non-white people but was the national hero.

Interestingly, as Enoch Powell pointed out, many immigrants to Britain who came in the 1950s thought that immigration should be halted.  

He was a romantic patriot who said that the nation was the thing mattered to him in politics, the golden thread running through his ideas. I start to see that not all politicians can say the same. When some people decry 'nationalism' they are objecting to making the nation one's first political priority. 

In fact many people object to this, by no means all of them on the left. They are liberal internationalists. As Chris Patten said, 

     'What else is there to be?'

Powell said that he despised the Labour Right as much as he despised the Liberals. 

      "More than that I cannot say."

But his own party, like Labour, was full of and led by liberals. Heath and the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson would both have been at home in the Liberal Party, had it not contracted to a tiny rump of six or nine MPs.

Powell had four great causes in politics. 

One was immigration, where he utterly failed. His predictions came true and were exceeded.

One was the union with Northern Ireland and he would have hated the Good Friday deal with the terrorists. 

One is free market economics - he invented what came to be called Thatcherism and thanks to his pupil, Margaret Thatcher, it has triumphed around the world. 

The fourth was his opposition to our joining or remaining in the European Economic Community.

Here his dead hand pulled the trigger. He inspired by his writings and speeches the men, including Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan, who achieved Brexit.


  1. I suggest that you consider the prominence given to the commemoration of MLK's murder by the BBC in the context of the political significance of his speeches and actions for the US in the 1960s, and the non-fulfillment of his dream (see last week's 's issue of The Economist and the article on segregation in the US).


    1. But Britain is not the United States. Why should the fiftieth anniversary of an event which significance is strictly confined to American history be the lead item on a BBC broadcast... even granting that we *are* talking about the BBC World Service?

      I could certainly understand noting it and briefly summarizing the relevant details — and that only because this was the World Service and not the BBC flagship station.

      But making the lead story? That's just bonkers, in my opinion.

    2. He is the world's foremost secular saint, even though his private life was very far from saintly.

    3. David In Belgrade6 February 2019 at 10:37

      "He is the world's foremost secular saint, even though his private life was very far from saintly."

      Nelson Mandela currently holds that hallowed place surely?

  2. The man was a genius, both in the academic and the military sphere. Rather inept at politics though, not because of being wrong, but because of being right and saying what he thought. Much of what he predicted has come through.
    He was wrong in that it is not the colour of skin -race- but the content of the mind -his worldview or (mostly islamic) faith-, that either makes a man a model citizen or an outcast and potential terrorist.

  3. A mot fascinating and informative post on a most fascinating speech. I just heard Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech for the first time the other day, and I was very impressed with how relevant it (unfortunately) is today. Let it not be said that no one cared; that no one predicted the catastrophe facing Britain today.

    Very interesting to note the sharp divergence between the people's views on immigration and the political class's views — a divergence which largely persists to this day. No offense, but this makes one wonder to what extent Britain is in fact a democracy? Obviously, it is, on one level. But on another, more profound level, could one say that Britain is a failed democracy?

    "Some say that Powell's mistake was to use vivid and emotive language to make his points."

    Was this a mistake? In terms of Powell safeguarding his career, perhaps. But in terms of making the speech memorable, it was well worth it, in my opinion. Had Powell not used the language and tone he used, I highly doubt we would still be discussing this speech five decades later, no matter how accurate the predictions in it.

    "Enoch Powell said that the nation was what mattered to him in politics. I start to see that not all politicians can say the same."

    Indeed. And this relates to my above point about British democracy. I frequently listen to a Spanish historian and political commenter named Pío Moa. He's an interesting character and, in my opinion, makes a lot of excellent points. Recently on his radio show, Moa attacked Spain's four main political parties (PP, PSOE, Podemos, and Ciudadanos) for being fundamentally in agreement on the main issues of the day. All four parties are pro-LGBT rights, pro-gender ideology, pro-EU, in favor of making concessions to separatists, and in favor of the totalitarian Law of Historical Memory (totalitarian because it is an attempt to impose by force of law a certain interpretation of Spain's recent history on Spanish society).

    Anyway, Moa argued that the four major parties' convergence on all of these profound questions shows that Spain is a failed democracy. He further argued that the fundamental problem with Spain's democracy is that there is a very noticeable lack of patriotism among Spain's populace. As a result, political parties squabble over petty matters while defecating all over Spain's national interests and traditional culture.

    Moa then argued that patriotism is the antidote to political parties's tendency to put their own interests over the nation's interests. He specifically named Britain and the United States as two nations with healthy levels of patriotism and therefore healthy democracies.

    Certainly, Britain and the United States are probably more patriotic societies than Spain. And I agree that healthy patriotism is important to the health of a democracy — something you will, of course, never hear mainstream politicians and journalists say. Yet I think Moa is basically wrong when he says that their democracies are healthier than Spain's.

    One need only look at how Enoch Powell was shunned after his "Rivers of Speech" speech, to say nothing of how controversial Trump is in the U.S. for wanting to do something about illegal immigration.

    As patriotic as the British and American peoples may be, this patriotism doesn't seem to trickle up to their elites.

  4. What particularly disturbed Mr Powell was race relations in American cities - outside the South. In the South one could talk about the bitter legacy of slavery and so on - but one could not make that argument about Los Angeles or Detroit. The race riots in American cities in the 1960s horrified Mr Powell and I can see why he was horrified.

  5. The Americans in the late 1940's had a shortage of labour for their factories in Michigan etc and they encouraged blacks to migrate from the south to the north. Germany in the 1970's 'solved' a similar problem by importing Turkish workers. In both of these examples there were ethno-cultural differences and there are now deep-seated problems. Mrs Merkel does not seemed to have learned from that experience and has recently allowed hundreds of thousands of Muslims to settle in Germany AND she is using her political clout to force the newcomers onto other EU members. Perhaps it would be wise if we all concluded that one has to be VERY careful when admitting alien elements into one's own society to avoid upsetting what is currently stable?

  6. A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country.

    That hits it on the head.

    The most racist people I have encountered are non white.

    It is now too late for the UK , a number of my friends have moved eastward as you have , and have successful lives in the Baltic states

    Welfarism is the pull factor , and Labour is the Islamic party of choice especially with the anti Semitism.

    As ever good article Paul

  7. Mr Powell did not place a time scale on unrest - but serious unrest there has been over the decades which clearly Mr Hannan has missed. I also think Mr Powell was absolutely right on the EU; but wrong on economics where he was a liberal thinker.

    He was absolutely 100% correct on alien immigration and just because a civil war has not yet erupted does not mean the traitors promoting alien immigration should sleep tight.

  8. The reactions to Enoch Powell's forecasts were clearly a case of shooting the messenger.

  9. "Ah but would you not rather live in wealthy diverse San Francisco than in poor non diverse West Virginia" - as I am poor, no-I-would-not. In West Virginia I would live in a house and work as a security guard or car park attendant - in San Francisco I would be in a cardboard box on the street. One of the dramatic changes of our lifetime is that California has become the State with, adjusted-for-the-cost-of-living the most poverty. I suspect London is going the same way.

  10. It’s the free speech angle that annoys me intensely , your article shows that as early as 1955 Political Correctness was rearing it’s ugly head.

  11. No offence, but this makes one wonder to what extent Britain is in fact a democracy?

    LOL. It never was and was never intended to be. The British political system was set up specifically to prevent ordinary people from having any say in government.

    The British don't mind. They like being told what to do by their betters. They don't mind having their country taken away from them. The government knows best.

  12. I believe in immigration control - and I not think that the speech really helped the cause. I suppose it depends on what one wants - to make a great speech (and it was a very powerful speech indeed) or to actually influence policy. Certainly John Enoch Powell should have spoken (he was right to speak), but he should have spoken in a different way - even if it was actually a LESS powerful way. British reserve (calmness) is sometimes important - do not give one's enemies a weapon with one's own words.

  13. I believe the anniversary of JFK's death was also so honoured (1962 - 2012). I still remember that day as if it were yesterday (I'm 67).