Radio 4 Programme Tomorrow on Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech

Radio 4 tomorrow, 14th April 2017, are marking the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech with a programme in their ‘Archive Hour’ series at 8.00 pm. Entitled ‘Archive on 4: 50 Years On: Rivers of Blood’, the blurb for this on page 117 of the Radio Times runs

Amol Rajan reflects on the Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s incendiary 1968 Rivers of Blood speech, and the impact it continues to have today. And for the first time the speech is broadcast complete on British radio, as actor Ian Mc Diarmid reads it in full. The text of the speech included observations on immigrants taken from Powell’s Wolverhampton constituents, and ended with a reference to a moment in Virgil’s Aeneid, when the prophetess Sibyll predicts a civil war in Italy with “the Tiber foaming with much blood.’

The paragraph on the programme on the opposite page, 116, by Jane Anderson, the magazine’s radio editor, gives the following additional information:

It has been 50 years since Enoch Powell delivered his incendiary Rivers of Blood speech to a Conservative party meeting in Birmingham. Only a short section was recorded at the time and so, like presenter Amol Rajan, I have read the speech in its entirety. The post-Brexit vote echoes are rather chilling. What shocked me most, however, was not Powell’s own words – he was an incredibly bright and eloquent man, whatever his political views – but those of his constituents, as read in full here by the actor Ian McDiarmid: “Then the immigrants moved in. With growing fear, she (an old lady) saw one house after another taken over. The quiet street became a place of noise and confusion. Regretfully, her white tenants moved out.”

Lord Adonis has already expressed his very strong fears about the programme. According to today’s I, he has written to Ofcom expressing his deep concern that the programme should be broadcast at this time, and requesting them to order the Beeb not to broadcast it. The I‘s article also states that Ofcom has no power to tell anybody what or what not broadcast. The Beeb has also issued a reply stating that broadcasting Powell’s infamous words does not constitute endorsement.

No, it certainly doesn’t, and the selection of a British Asian presenter for the programme does indicate fairly clearly that this is not going to be an endorsement of Powell’s vile views. And there’s an irony here in the choice of actor to read the speech. If memory serves me correctly, Ian McDiarmid, amongst other roles, was the Galactic Emperor, AKA Senator Palatine, AKA Darth Sidious in Star Wars. Of course, there are probably very many other good reasons why he is the right person to read the speech. But for all the Star Wars fans, it’s still going to be the Dark Lord of the Sith reading out Powell’s evil speech.

I’ve no problem with it being read out in its entirety, if it’s properly critiqued. This is why I don’t have a problem with German universities issuing an annotated version of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. If you want to combat evil and racism, you have to study it, and take it apart to refute it. And Powell’s wretched speech has cast a long shadow over British politics. Yasmin Alibhai-Browne in one of her column’s in the I mentioned how some Whites mutter comments about Enoch being right without going any further. The NF used to sell Union Jack badges, which had around the edge ‘Enoch Was Right’. And last year or so Simon Heffer and other right-wing journos from the Torygraph and Heil published a volume of articles celebrating the noxious old monetarist, Enoch at 100.

The impression I had was that Powell, otherwise known as ‘Scowly Powelly’ as the other kids at school used to call him, really wasn’t racist. He could speak Urdu, and sincerely admired Indian culture. On the other hand, a friend I used to work with, who was very active in the anti-Apartheid movement, said that could have just been from a desire for promotion. British civil servants in India were paid more if they could speak an Indian language. He also initially believed that Britain had an obligation to support and treat well its imperial subjects. What he was unprepared for was the hostility to the new coloured immigrants from ordinary Whites in his constituency.

And the issues outlined in the speech are still with us. I’ve heard people complain about Whites being forced out of their neighbourhoods by Blacks and other immigrants, who wanted to take their houses. I’ve seen this complaint directed against Muslims by the Islamophobic ‘counterjihad’ websites. And the Tories are still playing on these fears. Mike earlier this week put up a piece about the Tories producing a pamphlet directed at the residents of one area around London. This threatened that if Labour got won the council elections in May, then they would increase the area’s links with the inner city so that the area would be awash with crime and drugs. In other words, a middle class White area would be deluged with Blacks and Asians, bringing these problems from their urban ghetto.

I also understand that some of the events Powell alluded to in his wretched speech were completely bogus. A friend of mine, who was very anti-racist, told me that they tried to investigate Powell’s allegation that old ladies had had excrement pushed through their letter boxes by ‘grinning picaninnies’. They couldn’t find it. Never happened. Another friend also told me that another, similar incident, was also imaginary. Another old lady had claimed that a black man had forced his way into her home, and defecated on her carpet. That never happened too. The old lady, apparently, was a nasty piece of work continually making up vile stories about her neighbours. She was, however, supported by a Black family next door, who looked after her, and who seemed to regard her hateful slanders as a bit of joke. There’s a whole chapter devoted to Powell and the ‘Rivers of Blood’ and its lies and falsehoods in the book, Bloody Foreigners: A History of the English.

I am also not convinced that everyone who voted for Brexit is racist. Some left-wingers voted for it because the EU is a very neoliberal organisation, which does have policies promoting privatisation. For left-wing critiques of the EU, read Lobster or Counterpunch. Many people undoubtedly voted ‘Leave’ because they wanted to give a shock to the elites governing this country, without actually considering that it might actually happen. Unfortunately, they won. And most of the people, who did vote ‘Leave’ probably were racists, as Tom Pride and so many others have pointed out.

So I’m going to say that people have a right to listen to this programme, and hear what Powell actually said, regardless of the dangers. I sympathise with Adonis, but at the same time, I don’t like anyone – including former New Labour ministers – telling me what I may or may not listen to. I sincerely hope that the Beeb will in this instance try to live up to it role as a public service broadcaster, and provide a suitably incisive critique of it. Regardless of whether Boris, Heffer and the rest of the Tories want it or not.

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4 Responses to “Radio 4 Programme Tomorrow on Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech”

  1. chriswaynepoetry Says:

    Good article. The only point I would disagree with is when you say towards the end of the article that in your opinion (and I say this as someone who voted Remain), that most of the people who voted Leave were racists. I have no doubt that some of the people who voted Leave were racists. But the majority? I am not convinced by that.

    I feel that a main reason why people voted Leave was (and you do alluded to this in the article), was that they wanted to give a shock to the elites in the UK. Another reason was that people were not been given answers to or were just dismissed as talking crap for questioning certain topics, such as been labelled racist for questioning immigration. I’ll state an example.

    I’ve a friend of mine who lives in Scotland, is left wing and pro immigration and who voted to leave the EU, as they discovered that they blocked a policy by the Scottish government to bring in minimum pricing for alcohol as a way of reducing binge drinking, as they felt it was anti business. (They were also called racist by a mutual friend of ours over their decision to vote Leave, despite their vote having nothing to do with immigration).

    At the time I was living with a left wing housemate who was studied for a Masters in International Relations. When I told them this, their response was ‘That’s just bollocks’. There was no analysis of what my friend said, just dismissiveness.

    Though there are problems with the EU, I am for Remain. I am pro immigration as well. However, there have been two many surprising election results over the last five years because I feel, of a lack of willingness from both left and right to talk to each other, instead of the invectives I read and hear from both groups. The EU referendum I believe was, in part, as a result of this.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Chriswayne!:) Very interesting, and I don’t think for a single moment that your friend, who was left-wing and anti-racist was alone in voting Leave. As I said, Counterpunch and Lobster are very critical of the EU, because of issues like the one you described. I’ve also noticed since the result that a number of other left-wingers, who voted ‘Leave’ have also come forward to attack the way they’ve all been portrayed as racists.

      My perception of them as racists has been influenced by leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign itself, who were right-wing Tories, and UKIP, which is riddled with racism and sheer misogyny. It’s a perception reinforced by some of the most vocal right-wingers – those who write angry letters to the right-wing press, and leave comments on YouTube on videos about immigration and racism. But I entirely take your point that this probably isn’t fair on a great many of them. And I also take your point about the need for proper dialogue without invective and demonization, so I may have to rethink my own approach on this issue. I also voted ‘Remain’, but I do realise that the EU has very serious problems in democracy, accountability, corruption and, as I wrote, it is based on corporatism and neoliberalism. But I think we would be better served trying to reform it from within, then trying to survive outside.

      • chriswaynepoetry Says:

        I do think both campaigns during the referendum were very divisive in different ways. But I also think that the surprising elections results that I talked about in my previous reply are as a result of people not been listened to as well as negative labelling and general nastiness from others if against the prevailing view. That Jonathan Pie video released a few days after the 2016 US election explains this brilliantly.

        There is also a video from Jimmy Dore, in which he plays a clip of a man from the deep south. This man explains that although he despites Trump, that voting for him was the only way in which he felt politicians would listen to him in a way that he felt that Obama did not to people like him.

  2. lawrencesroberts Says:

    One does not have to be a racist to consider one’s country Full.
    It is just environmental sense.

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