Posts Tagged ‘‘Rivers of Blood’’

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

April 13, 2018

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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Owen Jones on the Middle Class Domination of the Houses of Parliament

May 5, 2014

I posted a piece this morning on early trade unionist campaigns to get the vote for the working class and working men into parliament and the local authorities. This was in response to the way working people have become increasingly ignored and excluded by the political class, to the point where many feel disenfranchised.

Owen Jones in Chavs describes the way parliament has become overwhelmingly upper and middle class in its composition:

We’ve seen that prominent politicians manipulated the media-driven frenzy to make political points. Like those who write and broadcast our news, the corridors of political power are deominated by people from one particular background. ‘The House of Commons isn’t representative, it doesn’t reflect the country as a whole,’ says Kevin Maguire. ‘It’s over-representative of lawyers, journalists-as-politicians, various professions, lecturers in particular … There are few people who worked in call centres, or been in factories, or been council officials lower down.’

It’s true to say MP’s aren’t exactly representative of the sort of people who live on most of our streets. Those sitting on Parliament’s green benches are over four times more likely to have gone to private school than the rest of us. Among Conservative MPs, a startling three out of every five have attended a private school. A good chunk of the political elite were schooled at the prestigious Eton College alone, including Tory leader David Cameron and nineteen other Conservative MPs.

There was once a tradition, particularly on the Labour benches, of MPs who had started off working in factories and mines. Those days are long gone. The number of politicians from those backgrounds is small, and shrinks with every election. Few than one in twenty MPs started out as manual workers, a number that has halved since 1987, despite the fact that that was a Conservative-dominated parliament. One the other hand, a startling two-thirds had a professional job or worked in business before arriving in parliament. Back in 1996, Labour’s then deputy leader John Prescott echoed the Blairite mantra to claim that ‘we’re all middle-class now’, a remark that would perhaps be more fitting if he had been talking about his fellow politicians. (p. 29)

It would be easy, but lazy, to portray parliament as a microcosm of the British class system. It isn’t, but it certainly showcases the gaping divides of modern society. When I interviewed James Purnell just before the May 2010 election that brought the Tories and their Lib Dem allies to 10 Downing Street, I put to him how unrepresentative Parliament was: two-thirds of MPs came from a professional background and were four times more likely to have attended a private school than the rest of the population. When I referred to the fact that only one in twenty MPs came from a blue-collar background, he was genuinely shocked. ‘One in twenty?’

When I asked him if this had made it more difficult for politicians to understand the problems of working-class people, he could hardly disagree. ‘Yes, indeed. I think it’s become very much a closed shop …’ For Purnell, this middle-class power grab was the result of a political system that has become closed to ordinary people.

In the build-up to the 2010 general election, a number of excited headlines claimed that trade unions were parachuting candidates into safe seats. ‘Unions put their candidates in place to push Labour to the left,’ bellowed the Times. And yet, in the end, only 3 per cent of new MPs were former trade union officials. There was no similar outrage about the number of prospective candidates with careers in the City – the sector that, after all, was responsible for the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. One in ten new MPs had a background in financial services, twice as many as in the 1997 landslide that brought Labour to power. Politics has also increasingly been turned into a career rather than a service: a stunning one in five new MPs already worked in politics before taking the parliamentary oath. pp. 104-5).

He then contrasts with the great political figures from Atlee’s cabinet of 1945 from the working class: Nye Bevan, Ernest Bevin, and Herbert Morrison. They were a miner, farm boy and grocer’s assistant, respectively. He contrasts this with the Tory jeers about John Prescott’s working class origins.

When he entered the House of Lords, that retirement home for the ruling elite, the Telegraph’s chief leader writer scoffed: I’m not sure ermine suits John Prescott.’ the comments left by Telegraph readers on the newspaper’s website were a class war free-for-all. One passed on a friend’s hilarious description of him as ‘the builder’s bum-crack of the Labour Party’. ‘Baron Pie & Chips’ and ‘Prescott is a fat peasant’ were other witticisms, as was ‘John “here’s a little tip” Prescott’. Someone has to serve the drinks between debates!’ guffawed another. Prescott was ridiculed because some felt that by being from lowly working-class stock, he sullied the office of deputy prime minister and then the House of Lords. (p. 106).

We desperately need more working class people in parliament. And as for the Telegraph, Buddyhell over Guy Debord’s Cat has posted a long series of pieces on just how frighteningly far-right the commenters on their website are. Very many of them post horrendously racist and overtly Fascist messages. One even suggested that the Nazis were being demonised out of ignorance (!) and that this would not happen if people knew more about them. (!)
No, the Nazis are demonised because people know exactly what they are like. Hence the attempts by Nazi apologists to deny the Holocaust ever happened, or played down the number of people who were murdered. The Cat has noted that the Telegraph uses the excuse that it can’t be held responsible for what it’s commenters post, and it is therefore not responsible for the ravings of the assorted stormtroopers that post there. This won’t wash. Other website are modded, and stopping genocidal racists from advocating mass murder is one of the few infringements to the right to free speech that most people would applaud. But not, it seems, the Torygraph. Either – God help us! – the editors secretly agree with these rants, or else they are following the old tactic Enoch Powell adopted with his supporters from the Far Right. Powell actually personally wasn’t racist. He spoke Urdu, and had served on various official bodies promoting civil rights for Blacks and Asians before the infamous ‘River of Blood’ speech. See the section on him in Bloody Foreigners: Immigration and the English. He actually hated the NF, but cynically used their support.

As for the Times, this is the quintessential paper of the establishment. I’ve got a feeling it was edited for a time by the very blue-blooded Peregrine Worsthorne. Under David Leppard, it saw fit to publish the lie that Michael Foot was a KGB agent. No wonder it printed scare stories about a coming union left-wing takeover.