jump to navigation

Sign of the times… April 15, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

… the news that the BBC is to broadcast “a reading of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech in its entirety on its 50th anniversary. “

“[it] will be read by the actor Ian McDiarmid, who has recently announced that he doesn’t believe Powell was a racist.

I’ve mixed views on this. For a start whatever Ian McDiarmid may think, many of us will view the speech as racist – but also deliberately inflammatory. Rivers of blood at the least appeared to predict massive inter-racial violence.

But there’s a bigger problem. For all Powell’s rhetoric what he predicted did not come to pass. This is not to dismiss the very real tensions subsequently, but nothing close to rivers of blood manifested themselves. Moreover even at the time the speech was regarded as deeply problematic and led to Powell being sacked from the shadow cabinet (though Paul Stocker has some pertinent thoughts about those events in his book on Brexit…). And McDiarmid’s defence seems weak to the point of nonsense.

Diarmid, who plays the role of Powell in the play What Shadows, has also tried to claim that the politician was not a racist. In an interview published in the Telegraph today, he states that Powell was right “in terms of the numbers” and that these days everyone accepts that “[immigration] can’t go on in an unlimited way because the results, as he said, would be catastrophic”.

The airing of the full speech seems unnecessary – one would think that a selection of relevant quotations would be appropriate. As to pulling the programme? I don’t know. Some participants feel they were misled about it and if they were and the programme comes across as in any way as equivocal that would be very bad indeed. But I do think it is entirely worthwhile of serious analysis – not least as a precursor of later and more contemporary attitudes.

But reading this that analysis would have to also point to the reality that Powell was playing with fire… and deliberately distorting the truth in a particular ugly way, and again was functionally racist.

Angela Spence attended West Park primary school, which had attracted national attention weeks earlier when Powell referred to it in another speech, claiming it had only one white pupil. A photograph of two boys, one white and one black, was carried in most newspapers.

“It was a complete lie,” said Mike Edwards, 59, the white boy pictured alongside his best friend, Ray Comrie. Other white pupils included his brothers and cousins, he said.

The spotlight on the school and the rivers of blood speech had an immediate impact. “Before we were just kids, and afterwards I was white and they were black.

That quote from an article about a campaign to get a blue plaque on his home led by a Tory who was “a former Conservative parliamentary candidate who was dropped in 2007 after writing a newspaper column arguing “Enoch Powell was right”.

Says it all.


1. EWI - April 15, 2018

A sneak preview from the BBC:


EWI - April 15, 2018

(For those not in the know, this is the role that McDiarmid is known for)


2. CL - April 15, 2018

Enoch Powell,-one of the few unionist MPs not a member of the orange order.


3. makedoanmend - April 15, 2018

“Before we were just kids, and afterwards I was white and they were black.”

Kind of says it all for me.

It took adults to broadcast their poisonous mindsets to youngsters.

And the BBC wants to do it all over again!

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - April 15, 2018

Yeah, I just can’t see a genuine reason the whole speech has too be repeated. A piece on how Powell was a racist which quotes it, grand. Because it seems to me he simply was a racist. But there’s something entirely wrong about reframing it in this way, and it is a reframing.

Liked by 1 person

EWI - April 15, 2018

The logic of fascism is that it needs to continually feed on threats of the ‘other’ to sustain itself. This is only going to get worse, and the UK media pandering to white English nationalism (which is what this is) will only increase, with attacks intensifying on any who hold out.


Pasionario - April 16, 2018

Powell is a fascinating figure, who identified immigration and by extension Europe as the defining political issues of the coming era. He did much to stoke fears about both, but it would be an exaggeration to claim he was personally responsible for the way those pathologies came to dominate the agenda. I would call him a dark prophet.

The “rivers of blood” speech was itself undoubtedly racist. But Powell’s other most memorable speech was an excoriation of the murders of Mau Mau detainees in the late 1950s. I’m not suggesting anyone give him the benefit of the doubt regarding the former. But there was some complexity there. And “fascist” is overdoing it.

He ultimately backed unilateral nuclear disarmament for what it’s worth and opposed British fealty to Washington. On realist grounds, he was also prescient about the futility of overseas imperial adventures in Vietnam and elsewhere.


yourcousin - April 16, 2018

I hate to click “like” on the above comment on the grounds that I’m not up to snuff on the entire debacle that this rebroadcasting entails. That being said Pasionario’s comment was extremely interesting and informative.

So a “like” for the comment, not the subject matter (if that makes sense).


WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2018

Years back I read a biography of his and was left with the sense that he was, without question, a conviction politician. Problem was it was the wrong convictions (in the main). He was, in many respects, a reactionary. But absolutely, definitely a complex character.


4. FergusD - April 16, 2018

Powell was basically a British Imperialist. After all it was him that brought over thousands from the West Indies to work in the NHS when he was a minister. Then he felt betrayed when the colonial subjects rejected the empire, especially India. I think that fuelled his politics. Not a fascist, an imperial believer, which obviously means racial superiority, but might also mean the duties of the empire to the ‘lesser’ imperial subjects.


WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2018

That makes sense to me given what I’ve read too. That he had an almost instrumental view of people.


5. Daniel Rayner O'Connor - April 18, 2018

Powell was undoubtedly a complex character, but few of his supporters would have seen him as such. Certainly, in Wolverhampton or South Down far fewer of those who voted for him would have done so on the grounds of his defence of Mau Mau prisoners of his advocacy of nuclear dis armament than for his racism or, in S.Down, his defence of the parliamentary union.
He was too idiosyncratic to be termed simply a fascist, but he was a contributor to the milieu that nurtures fascism, and if there had been a mass fascist party claiming government power he could have become a prominent figure therein, like Gentile was in Italy.


6. GW - April 18, 2018

I remember Powell being revered by racist Londoners in the 80s and 90s because they saw in him an ‘intellectual’ confirming their own biases.

Any complexity in his position was irrelevant, as far as I recall.


WorldbyStorm - April 18, 2018

I find it difficult to argue that point GW, I tend to think you’re right.


Michael Carley - April 18, 2018

How often do we hear the phrase “an educated man” without it being applied to someone who props up certain prejudices?


WorldbyStorm - April 18, 2018

Very true. Though I think I mentioned before the worst and most naked stuff has been that about how ‘middle class’ young people can’t get houses these days. I had that said to me straight faced.


Michael Carley - April 18, 2018

True though I think that “educated man” line, especially applied to someone like Powell tends to come from a working class deference.


WorldbyStorm - April 19, 2018

Ah yeah. I see what you mean. It’s a terribly disempowering dynamic.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: