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“”The flag of racialism which has been hoisted in Wolverhampton is beginning to look like the one that fluttered twenty-five years ago over Dachau and Belsen.
|—Tony Benn on Powell's Rivers of Blood speech.|
John Enoch Powell (1912–1998) better known as "Enoch Powell" was a British politician, classical scholar, philologist and poet, who is perhaps best known for his xenophobic views on immigration (especially with regard to non-white immigrants) that bordered on caricature, and for travelling by pogo stick. To the shame of many rock guitar fans, Eric Clapton has on a number of occasions spoken out in support of Powell's desire to curtail the immigration of melanin-enriched people into Great Britain.
He pioneered Friedmanite free-market economics in the UK, opposed the peace process in Northern Ireland, and claimed the Jews killed Jesus. Also noted for his 'mad staring eyes', distinctive diction and being one of the few British politicians instantly recognisable by his forename, though in fairness it's not exactly a common one.
Rivers of Blood
Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech railed against immigration and the anti-discrimination Race Relations Act of 1968. The Act was significant at the time in that it advanced discrimination from public places to the workplace. One of the main focuses in public opinion was housing. At the time it wasn't uncommon for hotels to refuse tenancy to African migrants or Irish people. To many, banning this practice was seen as a personal attack on a person's privacy. For businesses, it was feared that the Act would actually be discriminatory towards British workers and would favour migrants rather than equalise their chances of success. Powell himself made his speech - named after the mention of the River Tiber - with an emotional plea to a woman from Wolverhampton who was accused of racial prejudice when she made refused to allow black lodgers (her white lodgers having left once they discovered black people living on the street, which highlights how big xenophobia was) after an incident where she was too scared to let two black men into her home to use her telephone.
One of the best known sections, and the source of the speech's name, is as follows:
“”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."
Following the speech, there were numerous strikes supporting Powell, particularly by dock-workers, and polls showed that a significant majority of the population agreed with him; however, in Parliament cooler heads prevailed, and he was sacked from all party and parliamentary posts and relegated to the fringes of the Conservative Party. Later, after endorsing a vote for the Labour Party at the February 1974 general election, he defected from the Conservative Party to the UUP, being re-elected to a different constituency at the second general election held in October that year. His days as a powerful political figure were over in 1974, although he remained as an Ulster Unionist Party MP until he retired from politics at the 1987 general election.
For a long time, the woman in this speech was considered to be fictional. It was later determined to be Druscilla Cotterill, the wife of Harry Cotterill, who was killed in action during World War II, who was himself the second cousin of Mark Cotterill, active in far-right politics. She lived at Brighton Place, Wolverhampton, dominated in the 1960s by immigrant families; and not wishing to rent her spare room to West Indians, she stopped taking in lodgers after the Race Relations Act of 1968 was passed. The local children in the community regarded her as a figure of fun and a target of taunting.
Racists still whine about his relegation by the "PC police" to this day.
...he was not always opposed to immigration. In fact, as Minister of Health (1960-63), he encouraged Caribbean and Asian immigrants to work for the understaffed National Health Service, with them even being paid bursaries!
Powell was a man of very firm ideas that were often far from the mainstream, sometimes ahead of his time, sometimes behind, sometimes just odd. He was a passionate patriot and nationalist, who once claimed that he would fight and die for Britain even if it had a Communist government. Powell even said he voted Labour at the 1945 general election, which Labour won by a landslide. He was also somewhat suspicious of the United States' influence and disliked the country. He was a pioneer of free-market economics in the UK, even before Margaret Thatcher or Keith Joseph (he was the only MP to vote against the nationalisation of Rolls Royce's aerospace division in the early-1970s). In the 1980s, he argued against Britain keeping a nuclear deterrent because he felt it was useless for any conflict the UK would be likely to fight, and favoured a massive buildup of conventional weapons. He was also deeply involved with Ulster Unionism from the late-1960s, favouring making Northern Ireland an integral part of the UK rather than a province with its own parliament, although the more fundamentalist Loyalists like Ian Paisley hated Powell for being a high-church Anglican rather than a Presbyterian.
He was an expert scholar of Classical Greek, which he felt empowered him to write his own interpretation of the Bible, which he conveniently shaped to fit his political beliefs. One of his dissents from tradition were to argue that rather than being crucified by the Romans, Jesus was stoned to death by Jews. Whether this represents antisemitism or just the contradictions in the traditional crucifixion story is for you to decide. He also argued that Jesus didn't really mean to bless the poor, but was speaking metaphorically and meant gentiles. He based this on a rejection of the mainstream theory that the Gospel of Mark was the first written; he argued that the original was the Gospel of Matthew, which went through several revisions to become the version we have today.
- A lot of sources use the term "radicalism" instead of "racialism"; Benn clearly said "racialism" in the original.
- The politics of having fun, BBC News
- Clapton's guitar 'genius' legacy, BBC News
- Full text of "rivers of blood" speech in The Telegraph
- After Vergil: Thybrim multo spumantem sanguine cerno. The Aeneid, book 6.
- Powell ostracised
- Widow in Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech really did exist, Daily Mail, London, 2 February 2007, pp 50–51.
- Heritage and Destiny Issue 33 July–September 2008 p13-14
- "'Enoch Powell was not an out-and-out racist'", The Telegraph
- "Enoch Powell, 1959". New Statesman.
- , The Independent, 1994