Enoch Powell's commonly referred to "Rivers of Blood" speech, given at Birmingham's Midland Hotel in 1968, should more properly be called his "Birmingham" speech, but given the highly emotive nature of his public address, it continues to be known as the former, even though most people have little idea of its content, save for the "Rivers of Blood" label that has been attached to it, most notably by Powell's own political opponents and critics.
The recent attempt by the Sky journalist Dermot Murnaghan to try and trap the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, into admitting that he somehow supported or agreed with Enoch Powell's sentiments, by quoting a section of the late MP's Birmingham Speech, without the benefit of context or title, simply helps to illustrate that even now, some 45 years after he first made his famous public address, Enoch Powell is still being misquoted, misrepresented and misused by the very sorts of people that he warned about in the first few lines of his speech.
"Above all, people are disposed to mistake predicting troubles for causing troubles and even for desiring troubles: If only, they love to think, if only people wouldn't talk about it, it probably wouldn't happen"
Could it not be argued that Powell himself not only foresaw the massive social problems that would eventually afflict our country through unregulated immigration, but also the vitriolic attacks that would be visited on him and his reputation, as the "establishment" reverted to type and shot the messenger for bringing them bad news. The idea that Powell's warnings could in any way have become a self fulfilling prophesy, is clearly a fatuous argument, were it to be made, simply because by making the speech in the first place Powell was subsequently cast into the political wilderness; and was therefore unable to play any sort of official role in the immigration debate from that point onwards.
"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 then 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."
It's worth recalling that according to Powell, these weren't his own words, but those of an ordinary working constituent, who was so disenchanted with the way in which the country was moving, that he would have much rather seen his children; and presumably their future children, leave their homeland forever, rather than having them live and work in a Britain, which in the father's opinion was becoming unrecognisable. Now, as a classically trained politician, it seems unlikely that Powell would have invented the story just by way of making his point about immigration; and as the attitude of most native Briton's at the time was fearfulness and intolerance of foreigners, let alone persons of colour, the likelihood is that Powell did indeed have that very conversation, if not something very similar to it.
"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. Of course, it will not be evenly distributed from Margate to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Aberdeen. Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population."
It is interesting to note that the three and a half million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants specifically mentioned by Powell was not a figure made up by himself, but one that was provided by a Parliamentary answer to an anti-immigration MP, Sir Cyril Osborne. If anything though, according to Channel 4's Fact Check Team, who analysed Powell's speech for accuracy, the MP actually underestimated the numbers of migrants and their descendants, as he failed to foresee the sorts of mass migration resulting from our membership of the European Union. According to the latest Census; and accepting that many thousands of legal and illegal residents failed to complete the forms, for fear of official interest, there were reported to be in excess of 7 million people born overseas living in the UK, which in itself takes no account of their direct descendants who were born here and therefore have British nationality as a right. Regardless of the exact numbers, colour or ethnicity however, the facts speak for themselves, in this particular respect Enoch Powell was correct. As he also predicted many, if not all of these immigrants tend to segregate themselves into racial, ethnic or religious ghettoes, to the extent that large parts of some cities are almost entirely inhabited by migrants or their direct descendants, whilst in London, the White Briton has become now represents a minority of the overall population.
"The natural and rational first question with a nation confronted by such a prospect is to ask: How can its dimensions be reduced? Granted it be not wholly preventable, can it be limited, bearing in mind that numbers are of the essence: the significance and consequences of an alien element introduced into a country or population are profoundly different according to whether that element is 1 per cent or 10 per cent. The answers to the simple and rational question are equally simple and rational: by stopping, or virtually stopping, further inflow, and by promoting the maximum outflow. Both answers are part of the official policy of the Conservative Party."
Interestingly, both around the time of Powell's speech and in the decades since, the subject of repatriation has been raised a number of times, both within Parliament and within the wider country, yet nobody baulked at discussing the subject openly. In fact, as Powell himself pointed out voluntary repatriation was a policy endorsed by Edward Heath's Conservative Party, so Powell in discussing the issue was only reiterating party policy. Even today; and thanks largely to the increasing popularity of UKIP and the immigration failures of the last Labour government, immigration restrictions have once again become a popular method of reducing the British people's concerns, even though an average of some 200,000 new migrants per year still find their way into our country. Had any national government, from 1968 onwards heeded Powell's warnings, or adopted his suggested immigration policies, there seems little doubt that we would be in a far better position community-wise than we find ourselves at present.
"But while, to the immigrant, entry to this country was admission to privileges and opportunities eagerly sought, the impact upon the existing population was very different. 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. 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."
In responding to the introduction of the Race Relations Act, Powell saw the legislation as a legal instrument with which to beat those British natives, who were resistant to widespread immigration and the increasing numbers of Commonwealth citizens who were coming to settle in Britain. Pointing out that an artificially inflated population would almost certainly put pressure on hospital and school places, be decried the use of affirmative legislation being employed to force native Britons to comply with the law, rather than giving them a personal choice in matters of housing, employment, healthcare, etc. This was the beginning of the concept of positive discrimination, with people being given jobs, housing, or services, not because they were the most deserving, or best suited but often because they were coloured, rather than white. In another part of the speech, Powell attempted to differentiate between the plight of the coloured people in America, where affirmative action was introduced to counter historically endemic racism; and those in Britain who arrived in the country with their equality largely intact, even though many native Britons didn't initially treat them as equals. For Powell and many others, the Race Relations Act was itself discriminatory as it legally enforced an almost higher duty of care and consideration on employers and landlords, etc when they were dealing with coloured workers or applicants than when they were dealing with white workers, to the extent that white workers felt that they themselves had become second class citizens in their own country. One could perhaps draw a modern comparison between the Race Relations Act and the later European Convention on Human Rights, in that on many occasions, clearly spurious claims are put forward by those who would seek to exploit the weaknesses contained within the legislation itself. Even today, it remains something of a standing joke that if a person of colour is asked to account for their actions, almost inevitably the first question they ask is "Is it because I'm black?"
"For these dangerous and divisive elements the legislation proposed in the Race Relations Bill is the very pabulum they need to flourish. Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood."
And so we arrive at the words that have attached themselves to Enoch Powell's Birmingham speech, the so-called Rivers of Blood, which many have chosen to interpret either as a threat or a warning regarding Britain's multicultural future. The thing is, choose your event or your incident, the various race riots that have affected a number of our larger towns and cities, the 7/7 bombings on the London Underground, the unsuccessful terror plots foiled by our national intelligence services, or even the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate, to campaign against their fellow citizens! Draw your own comparisons with modern Britain, from a warning that was delivered over forty years ago; and consider the current situation with organised gangs of criminal youths, Islamic fundamentalist, Blacks-only pressure groups, Muslim political activists, Sharia Courts with official standing within the community and more besides. And as Powell so pointedly remarked, most of them are fully armed with the legal weapons that successive British governments have handed them, the Race Relations Act, The European Convention on Human Rights, to name just two that the British people simply cannot counter.
As for the Rivers of Blood connection? As a classical scholar Powell was always likely to explain himself in such a way, although some later historians have questioned his use of the story of Aeneas to make his point about the future of a multicultural Britain. Taken from Virgil's Aeneid, the mythological story revolves around the founding of Rome and the tale of a Trojan warrior called Aeneas. Upon arriving in Italy the warrior consults a priestess to ask her to foretell how his plans to build a new empire will turn out. In response the priestess tells Aeneas that in the process of him creating Rome she sees "wars and the River Tiber foaming with blood".
Perhaps aware that the creation of a new country, a multicultural Britain, would be both hard and troublesome, Powell employed his classical background to best sum up the future for Britain as he then saw it, with resistance, conflict, intolerance, resentment and even violence erupting as an old established white dominated country, tried to come to terms with becoming a much more modern multicultural, multi-faith, multi-coloured nation, much as it has become today.