Anniversaries can make for lazy journalism . You can see how it happens . There is a need to plan the schedule – what’s coming up?
Well checking the records you can see that 20 April will be the 50th anniversary of what is referred to as Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood ‘ speech given to a Midlands Conservative Association meeting .The airwaves have been buzzing since the BBC Media Editor Amol Rajan tweeted
Rajan made play of the fact that the speech would be read in full by an actor .
No doubt he was just trying to drum up interest but the idea of an actor reading the speech in full seemed to have excited a reaction . Comments were made ranging from- why does it need to be an actor? to couldn’t a producer read it instead ? to why do it all ?
The suggestion that the speech should be read by a producer seemed to imply there was something so incendiary about the content that if read in a dramatic full throated way by an actor there would be dire consequences – clips recorded and set to music and played at EDL meetings or whatever bunch of losers the self styled Tommy Robinson hangs out with these days perhaps?
This all seemed to be getting out of hand .
How Enoch Powell Got Vergil Wrong
I realised that I had only heard the much quoted ‘Rivers of Blood’ excerpt from the speech . I was 14 when it was made . I knew Ted Heath had acted swiftly and decisively .He sacked Powell as Shadow Defence Secretary . Powell had found a second political home as an Ulster Unionist MP for South Down .
Powell retained a reputation , in some quarters , as a man who had put principle before party and career . He was seldom mentioned without a reference to his being a classicist .
So I have read the speech tonight . It doesn’t take long .
Its reputation as an allegedly serious speech hangs largely on fact that he quotes lines from Vergil’s Aeneid .
I am a failed classicist so I am in no position to critise Powell on this (and this alone) but I gather the attribution of the observation of the Tiber foaming with blood to a Roman is simply wrong . The source of these comments in the Aeneid was Greek .
So Powell was as wrong on this as he was on everything else .
Reading the speech reveals it to be a ramshackle rant , peppered with spurious statistics , and giving voice through racist anecdotes to fear of the other . It does not advance anything that can be regarded as substantiated argument . Rather it relies on the man whose children have all gone to Grammar School but who won’t be happy until they have all emigrated . He is joined by the woman who got by , by renting out rooms in her house , but will now manage without income rather than let rooms to immigrants .
The language – a funeral pyre is mentioned – is emotive and conveys a sense of the “British” being displaced by newcomers . The notion of being “swamped ” is prevalent : the proposed legislation , the Race Relations Act , will disadvantage the “British ” , places in maternity wards not being available is claimed as a consequence of immigration. The notion of ‘ re-emigration ‘ or as he puts it maximum outflow is referred to at several points .
What slight significance the speech has is confined to the remarkable number of racist tropes it manages to put into play .
What is more extraordinary is all this is being said by Powell only 8 years after the first Commonwealth immigrants arrived in the UK on the MV Windrush , welcomed by London Transport and the NHS and much needed to fill jobs at a time of full employment .
A Continuing Failure
What that points up is a failure which continues to this day for politicians consistently and thoughtfully to put forward the positive benefits of immigration and allied with that the economic consequences of being a country which is not growing and does not have the access to the skills and qualities we need to prosper .
Speech Worth Study ?
The only argument that can be put forward for noting this speech is the effluxion of time . 50 years have passed . That is it . There is literally nothing else which is worthy of comment . No doubt a detailed analysis to be broadcast on Radio 4 will reveal how profoundly wrong Powell managed to be in every respect . But there is no more merit in subjecting his utterances to critical analysis than there would be in scrutinising the racist musings of a drunken Saloon Bar philosopher of the same vintage .
Remember the Windrush Generation
What is much more worthy of our and the BBC’s continuing attention until it is solved is the circumstances of all those whose right to be here is now being called into question .
The Jamaican high commissioner, Seth George Ramocan, said in the Guardian (12 April 2018) since these cases began to attract media attention last year, a number of people had contacted the high commission to ask how they could get their situation regularised. He said most were afraid of contacting the Home Office directly. “They are afraid of taking it to the authorities to get it sorted out because they worry they won’t get help but will be told they are illegal,” he said.
Incredibly, this is not a glitch in the system. It is the system. And in the words of American intellectual WEB Du Bois: “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.” Braithwaite has become ensnared in deliberate government policy, set out by the prime minister, Theresa May, when she was home secretary, to create a “really hostile environment for illegal immigrants”. The aim was to make life in Britain so onerous for immigrants that those who could not produce the documents at any, random, point in their daily life, would find their life so difficult that they would, in the words of Mitt Romney, “self-deport”.https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/13/commonwealth-citizens-harassment-british-immigration-policy