A Brief History
On April 20, 1968, Conservative Member of Parliament Enoch Powell delivered his famous “Rivers of Blood Speech” against the continued immigration of non-European colonials into Britain. The speech was partly in response to the pending Race Relations Act of 1968 which made it illegal to refuse anyone housing, employment or public service because of race, color, religion, national origin and the like. The speech targeted non-white colonials from around the Empire and Commonwealth, notably Blacks and Indian sub-continent people.
Does this sound like the United States of 2016 and 2017? You bet it does! In fact, it even sounds like the United Kingdom of 2016 that voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, largely as a protest against continued open borders immigration of people of non-European background, especially refugees from the Middle East.
Although Powell himself referred to his speech as his “Birmingham Speech,” and he never actually used the words “Rivers of Blood,” it was his allusion to the Aeneid in which Virgil refers to the Tiber as “foaming with much blood.” Powell railed against the racial aspects of immigrants, especially those that were unmarried and sought British spouses, presumably diluting the “Britishness” (my quotes) of Britain.
Powell had heaped fuel on the anti-immigrant flames of Britain, and the country was divided over his sentiments. Conservative politicians demanded his ouster from the Shadow Cabinet (where he was the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence) and indeed Powell was expelled. Of course, numerous other Conservatives supported Powell and his speech, as did many British blue collar workers afraid of losing their jobs and station in society to masses of “colored” immigrants. A Gallup poll indicated 74% of British polled agreed with Powell.
Powell’s famous speech is given at least partial credit for galvanizing the Conservative Right wing and leading to the Conservative victory in the 1970 elections, including unseating almost half the Liberal MP’s. Powell himself served as a Member of Parliament from 1974 to 1987, and died in 1998 at the age of 85.
Question for students (and subscribers): Does Enoch Powell and his famous speech remind you of the Donald Trump campaign for President in 2016? Was Powell right to take the “Britain for the British” type of stance? Should the US emulate the United Kingdom and take measures to limit immigration? Please feel free to lend your opinions on these subjects in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Powell, Enoch. Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” Speech 1968 (Famous Speeches, Great Speeches, Historical Speeches). Macnaughtan Books, 2014.