From the Guardian (of Muslims) loony bin:
“It’s a profoundly depressing idea that the most simple way to make the world more equal is to limit support and opportunity for one’s own citizens, because generosity of spirit might encourage others living further afield. But it’s the politically dominant idea in Britain at the moment. Ukip may not have achieved the electoral earthquake it sought, but the poison of the party’s rhetoric has seeped everywhere.”
‘In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.’
When most people hear the words ‘Enoch Powell’ they think of the phrase ‘rivers of blood’. It was Powell’s misfortune — partly self-inflicted — that his monumental contribution to political ideas should still be eclipsed by a phrase that he never uttered, misquoted from the speech that still defines him.
Powell was born 100 years ago this Saturday, in a terrace house by a railway line in a suburb of Birmingham, the only child of two teachers.
In time, he would become the most brilliant classical scholar of his generation at Cambridge, the youngest professor in the British Empire, the youngest Brigadier in the Army, an MP, a Cabinet Minister and, in his re-invention as a tribune of the people, one of the most loved and hated men in Britain.
He was, in own words, ‘born a Tory’ — by which he meant he was born with a natural reverence for the institutions of this country, notably its constitution.
Unfairly branded a racist: In fact, although Powell made many speeches on immigration, he never made one on race
Yet he would fight a war with that party that was partly responsible for it losing two general elections in 1974, because his highly intellectual view of what a Tory was, and what a Tory should believe in, was at odds with the pragmatic, centre-left doctrine of Ted Heath, whose nemesis Powell became.
Because of his famous — or notorious — speech on immigration, delivered in Birmingham in April 1968, Powell’s wider achievements have been largely ignored. He served in the Cabinet for just 15 months, but his influence on politics and political thought is greater than that of any other Member of Parliament in the past century.
It was Powell who, in 1957, predicted that excessive State borrowing would bring economic decline. Long before Milton Friedman, the free-market champion who won the Nobel Prize for Economics for demonstrating the link between an expansion in the supply of money and higher inflation, Powell explicitly outlined that argument.
In the Sixties, he mocked the use of prices and incomes policies (with which the government tried to control inflation by limiting increases in wages and prices). He also ridiculed the scape-goating of trades unions for ‘causing’ inflation by demanding big pay rises.
He deplored the waste of public money on nationalised industries and urged what he called their ‘denationalisation’, using the funds freed to pay for tax cuts to encourage economic growth. He also understood that if Scotland had a separate parliament, it would inevitably soon become a separate country.
Powell, seen here with Queen Elizabeth, demonstrated a towering integrity and commitment to principle that no other senior politician has ever come near
Misunderstood: Part of Powell’s problem was that hardly anyone in his audience, or who read reports of the famous ‘rivers of blood’ speech, had his titanic intellect or his subtlety of mind
Almost 45 years ago, before Britain made its successful application to join what was then called the Common Market, Powell warned Britons they would lose the power to govern themselves. Equally presciently, from the moment a single currency was mooted, he pointed out that countries joining it would be stripped of their economic sovereignty — and, if it were to function properly, would lose the right to have their governments determine the exact nature of their public spending.
And, in an age when it was more or less compulsory for Conservative politicians to worship America, and America’s influence in the world, Powell repeatedly made clear his distrust of U.S. foreign policy, believing it would cause more conflicts than it prevented.
He had first seen what he considered to be America’s heavy hand in diplomacy when, as a staff officer, he attended Churchill’s meeting with Roosevelt at Casablanca in 1943.
Nothing he saw subsequently made him feel any better about that country.
Yet all these ideas — ideas now espoused with fervour by politicians, and not just those of the Right — remain clouded by the controversy over Powell’s views on what his critics call ‘race’.
Influential: Mrs Thatcher developed her economic policy directly from Powell’s critique of the Heath government’s massively inflationary spending programme between 1970 and 1972
In fact, although Powell made many speeches on immigration, he never made one on race: because he was not a racist, and therefore the matter would have been irrelevant and intellectually absurd to him.
He had served in India during World War II learned Urdu and Punjabi to a high standard, loved Indian culture, and said he would have been quite happy to live and die there. He was devoid of any idiotic ideas of racial superiority. However, when as shadow defence secretary he made what he called the Birmingham speech — the Rivers of Blood speech to almost everyone else — the Left seized upon his words in a fit of self-righteous panic, and engaged in one of the most revolting orgies of grand-standing in our political history.
His fellow Conservatives attacked him in order to try to distance themselves from any taint of racism. Socialists attacked him in an attempt to destroy the moral reputation of the Conservative Party.
I knew Powell well for the last 15 or so years of his life — he died in 1998, and he asked me to write his biography. During many long conversations, he never expressed a trace of regret at having made the speech, except in one particular.
‘If I had quoted Virgil in the original (Latin),’ he said of the ‘River Tiber’ phrase that came to distinguish the speech, ‘I shouldn’t have caused so much trouble.’
He may not have regretted what he said on that fateful day, but he came to realise that his use of a vivid classical quotation had derailed his otherwise conventional political career.
He had warned that if the Labour government’s anti-discrimination Race Relations Bill became law, it would allow the immigrant community to ‘agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens’. The apocalypse was in sight.
‘As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”,’ he said.
The allusion was to the Sibyl’s prophecy in Book VI of Virgil’s Aeneid about Aeneas’s return to Rome: ‘I see wars, horrible wars, and the Tiber foaming with much blood.’
Significant: Though he served in the Cabinet for just 15 months, Powell’s influence on politics and political thought is greater than that of any other Member of Parliament in the past century
Nemesis: The then Prime Minister Ted Heath was at odds with Powell and dismissed him from the cabinet after his famous Birmingham speech
Part of Powell’s problem was that hardly anyone in his audience, or who read reports of the speech, had his titanic intellect or his subtlety of mind. Crucially, the speech was made without prior warning to his fellow shadow cabinet members, even though it had discussed the Race Relations Bill two days previously.
Outraged on this count and by the provocative content, Ted Heath sacked him from the shadow cabinet, and Powell’s messianic role in our politics was thereafter conducted from the backbenches and, thanks to his prolific journalism, through the columns of newspapers and magazines.
The Bill was why Powell made the speech: but he was at pains, in the speech itself and later on, to insist that he was doing so in his role as the MP for Wolverhampton South-West. His constituency had witnessed an enormous influx of immigrants in the preceding years.
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He stressed that it was not only his white constituents who expressed their resentment at the scale of immigration: the small number of immigrants who had originally come to Wolverhampton in the Fifties had expressed their worries, too, because of the breakdown they perceived in community relations as a result of the barely restricted flow.
Powell had no objection to immigration. He had a profound one, however, to immigration on so large a scale, because it meant immigrants found it impossible to integrate.
He had witnessed the disaster of multiculturalism on the sub-continent (such as problems between different religions in India) and had no wish to see communal strife here, but he feared mass immigration would cause it.
Chiefly, he felt compelled to speak on behalf of his constituents. One had told him of his wish to emigrate and see his children settle overseas. He quoted him as saying: ‘In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.’
Powell continued: ‘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 . . . I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else.’
He spoke, too, of communities following customs ‘inappropriate in Britain’; of the strain placed on housing, health, social services and education provision by the influx.
Most inflammatory of all, there was his reference to a little old lady who had excreta pushed through her letterbox by the immigrants who surrounded her.
Powell perhaps was disingenuous in expressing shock and surprise at the effect his speech had. He had warned the editor of his local newspaper, the week before he delivered it, that the speech would ‘fizz like a rocket’.
But I am certain he believed his stature in his party was too great for Heath to sack him, and he never contemplated that the speech would end his front-bench career.
Yet his dismissal had some positive consequences. The most direct of which was an Immigration Act in 1971 that responded to some of his concerns, by limiting the number of people from the Commonwealth who could apply for a British passport.
Assured: Powell, pictured here with his wife Pamela, was, in own words, ‘born a Tory’
More than even that, his return to the backbenches gave him a freedom to expound ideas that helped break the destructive post-war consensus, and — not least by Margaret Thatcher’s own account — laid the foundations of what came to be called Thatcherism.
Powell, in league with his friend and admirer, the Labour Left-winger Michael Foot, derailed the joint attempt by the Wilson government and Heath’s opposition, to reform the House of Lords in 1969, which would have made it entirely the creature of the House of Commons.
That same year he began his high-profile crusade against British membership of the Common Market: his arguments were widely ignored then, but are now accepted as having been right by millions who used to discount them.
Mrs Thatcher developed her economic policy directly from Powell’s critique of the Heath government’s massively inflationary spending programme between 1970 and 1972.
But above all, as part of the Conservative Party’s internal opposition between 1970 and 1974, Powell demonstrated a towering integrity and commitment to principle that no other senior politician has ever come near.
Man of principle: Enoch Powell on the campaign trail for the Ulster Unionists in 1983
‘Too often today,’ he had said shortly after the Birmingham speech, ‘people are ready to tell us, this is not possible, that is not possible. I say, whatever the true interest of our country calls for is always possible. We have nothing to fear but our own doubts.’
He refused to fight the February 1974 election for the Tories, on the legitimate grounds that Heath had broken virtually every promise of his 1970 manifesto. He went on to advise electors to vote for a party that promised a referendum on our continued membership of the Common Market — which meant voting Labour.
Even today, old television footage of the moment when he uttered this view, in a speech in Yorkshire three days before the election that Heath would lose, has the power to electrify.
‘Judas!’ a heckler cried.
‘Judas was paid!’ Powell retorted, in an instant. ‘Judas was paid! I am making a sacrifice!’
Having quit the Conservatives over Europe, Powell was invited to stand as Official Ulster Unionist candidate in South Down. He did, and won. He spent the rest of his parliamentary career (until 1987) as an Ulster MP.
Powell was a man of conspicuous moral greatness, something that, alone, made him unsuited for politics, because it meant he could not keep what he perceived to be the truth to himself.
He had a gift denied to most politicians, which was of making prophecies that were right.
He was right about Europe; right about the single currency; right about economic management; right about Lords reform; right about devolution; right about American imperialism; and, with even Trevor Phillips, the figurehead of the Equalities Commission, now arguing that multiculturalism has failed, right about that, too.
Fourteen years after his death, and almost half-a-century after he sat in the Cabinet, his influence on political thought is not only undiminished: it continues to grow.