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Do ‘Rivers of Blood’ resonate with society 50 years on?

By Jamie Morse

On the 20th of April 1968, Enoch Powell, at that time a Conservative Shadow Cabinet member, gave a speech detailing his view that mass immigration into the UK would cause a societal catastrophe. Powell stated that “in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”, and made an ominous premonition of ‘Rivers of Blood”. The BBC made the decision, approaching the speech’s 50th anniversary, to air a re-recording of ‘Rivers of Blood’ – a decision which has seen the broadcaster come under fire.

I feel these criticisms of the BBC to be misplaced however. Not only did they handle the occasion tactfully (by interspersing analysis and discussion into the recital), they have also enabled Powell’s words to come under scrutiny, and therefore have illuminated all the ways in which the provocateur was proven incorrect by history.

Powell warned that the influx of migrants from Commonwealth nations would cause a race war within twenty years. Twenty years passed and Britain saw no such upheaval. Powell marked this anniversary by turning his attention to the European Union. This, Powell claimed, would be the actual cause of civil war on the grounds of race. Again, Powell was mistaken, and now his 21st Century admirers have decided that this time they’re convinced it will be Islam which will cause the race war.

Powell’s rhetoric was very much reminiscent of fringe Christians declaring they’ve discovered the date of Judgement Day. When the event passes and, to their horror, the Earth is not consumed by flames, they explain that they must have got their calculations wrong – only to return a couple years later with yet another false prophecy. I say this in the name of making the point that there will always be those who seek to drum up fear of the impending doom of white populations. Powell was not the first, nor indeed were his words any harsher than those we hear today in modern ‘White nationalist’ movements.

Those who had a desire to believe Enoch Powell’s claims would have found him regardless of the BBC airing the Rivers of Blood speech. Surely our only hope of counteracting his lies would not to whitewash him from history, as doing so would only give his acolytes just cause to exclaim that we silenced him because we were too scared that he was right. Enoch Powell’s words were inflammatory, and his ideas threatened the livelihoods of countless British people from ethnic minority backgrounds, people who were no less British than him. I believe that if we were to pretend that Enoch Powell didn’t exist, we would be failing those who were victims of his hateful rhetoric.

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