Home > Dave's Favourites, General Politics, Terrible Tories > Was Enoch Powell right?

Was Enoch Powell right?

Enoch PowellA lot has been said in certain circles about this character Hastilow, a Tory parliamentary candidate who said that Enoch Powell was right in his ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Hastilow’s comments were made a few weeks following widespread praise for David Cameron and the ‘de-racialisation’ of Conservative politics.

I am not sure what Cameron has done to deserve such praise from the head of the Equality quango, Trevor Phillips. His speech on decreasing immigration, justifying it by declaring that it puts pressure on things like housing, struck me as either spurious or false logic. I will deal more with that in a bit.

What I want to consider is, allegations of racism aside, what did Enoch Powell say and was he right? This interest arises for a few reasons. The two uppermost in my mind are these; few Marxist groups that I have seen dedicate much resources to actually analysing racism. The other is that yesterday I was chatting to a colleague, a fellow Classicist, who had actually met the man while visiting the site of the Battle of Hastings.

Powell, in the famous speech, attacked immigration. He likened allowing immigration at the then-levels to heaping the nation’s own funeral pyre. He justified racist discrimination in employment practices. All people should be equal before the law but, ‘this does not mean…that [the citizen] should be subjected to an inquisition as to his reasons and motives for behaving in one lawful manner rather than another.”

Those who supported anti-discrimination laws were denounced as having attempted to blind the eyes of Britain to the danger before it in the 1930’s.

Powell’s ultimate justification for his anti-immigration ran thusly;

“For reasons which they could not comprehend, and in pursuance of a decision by default, on which they were never consulted, they found themselves made strangers in their own country.

They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated; at work they found that employers hesitated to apply to the immigrant worker the standards of discipline and competence required of the native-born worker; they began to hear, as time went by, more and more voices which told them that they were now the unwanted.

On top of this, they now learn that a one-way privilege is to be established by Act of Parliament; a law which cannot, and is not intended to, operate to protect them or redress their grievances, is to be enacted to give the stranger, the disgruntled and the agent provocateur the power to pillory them for their private actions”.

It fills me with suspicion and disgust to hear David Cameron’s speech on immigration praised by someone in charge of ensuring equality, when it mirrors in some respects what Enoch Powell said. On the other hand, for the lowly parliamentary candidate, pressure is great for him to resign. It is hypocrisy of the highest order.

Largely I think it is agreed that Powell’s assessment of equal rights laws was incorrect. Ethnic minorities do not get special treatment – the only institutional benefits they receive correct pre-existing disadvantages. The ‘white man’ is far from being a stranger in his own country – indeed if one looks at Parliament itself, the white man is still very much in the majority. Even women are underrepresented in that august institution and of ‘Black and Asian’ MP’s, there are a mere 15.

I am grateful to Enoch Powell; he is an insight into the minds of the traditional ruling elite of the Conservatives such as we are rarely afforded today. He was of that generation of politicians who could denounce anyone of vaguely left wing views as traitors working for the Soviet Union. Anything that threatened the concept of the nation-state, his generation of Conservative politicians were innately hostile to. That characteristic hasn’t changed – the current generation of Conservatives simply have no Soviet Union to use as a spectre, no militant trade unions to denounce as communist traitors.

Powell was, first and foremost, a nationalist. This is important. Regardless of political stripe, nationalism is a creed with a powerful pull. It is the siren song of unreason, of irrational loyalty. Racism, antisemitism and a host of other discriminations are an inescapable correlative of nationalism. Nationalism requires a line in the sand so that an individual can stand on one of two sides. In reality the sand is utterly ephemeral and amorphous and the line is a myth.

In their nationalism of whatever strain, the entire Conservative Party, most of the Labour Party and most Liberal Democrats are united. All of these parties draw a line in the sand. Labour, like Cameron has done, attempts to disguise it by declaring that our national infrastructure would be imperiled by the demands placed on it because of immigrants. The onus is transferred from the character of the immigrants to the economic ‘realities’ of health care, housing, social welfare and so forth.

That all of these reflect in some part what Enoch Powell declared is never mentioned.

Anti-immigration stances are transformed from being overtly racist policies to being sound economic judgment – that invariable and powerful appeal to the homo economicus postulated by liberalism.

It would be simplistic to call people advocating anti-immigration policies racist. I don’t doubt that many of them do what they do because they believe it to be in the best interest of the citizens of this country, whom they are elected to serve. In the trade union movement, I am sure that there are no few trade unionists who resent immigrant workers because they depress wages. That doesn’t of itself make these trade unionists racist. In 1968, following the speech, some thousand dockers marched in protest at Powell’s sacking and were full-throated in their attacks upon the Labour MPs representing their constituencies when those MPs refused to countenance calling for reinstatement.

I think it bears reminding, however, how easily one mindset runs into the other. The example of the dockers involves placards which carried the slogan “Back Britain, not Black Britain.” In Rochester I know that a local preoccupation is with the allegedly crime-prone Polish immigrants. All too easily do people ascribe a trait to a particular race and leave it at that, without probing further into the matter. Populist politicians can adapt themselves to that shortcoming and make a living attacking immigration. Given the intrinsic populism of the right wing press, the cause of immigrants is not helped by a government that all too often fudges its own opinions.

To me attacking immigration for these reasons makes as much sense as the trade unionist opposing immigration. It strikes me that the matter is posed upside down and needs to be set to rights. With regard to the trade unionist, the answer is increasing militancy – aggressive campaigns to unionise immigrants and a readiness to break the back of any management that will not recognise the right of those people to be represented by a union. There are an enormous number of cases of companies which won’t recognise unions – so many that one might be forgiven for thinking we live in the early 1900’s and not the early 21st Century.

Aggressively unionising immigrants might do wonders for crime as well. A hundred years ago, it was the poor who were routinely blamed for crime by the literate classes. The poor blamed the immigrants. In many ways the same situation holds, but after a century of trade union struggle and political activism, the poor are relatively better off. The unquenchable crime of British slums is a memory despite our modern problems. There is no reason why immigrants, availing themselves of the same route, could not do the same thing.

Indeed, given that immigrants are among the lowest paid workers, their militancy might be our only hope for sustaining the benefits won by organised labour.

As to the drain on the social resources of the state, politicians have been under-investing in housing for years, tying the building of new houses up in so much red tape. Politicians have been messing with the structure and efficiency of the health service for years, in order to provide a choice that no one except private health care providers need. It has privatised transport, electricity and water, so they cost more and have not increased much in efficiency. I have little sympathy when Cameron claims that immigrants will put a strain on these state-provided resources – resources which he seeks to cut anyway. Equally, I have little sympathy when Labour comes forward with the same argument.

So, as I have shown, in many ways what Enoch Powell said reverberates in Britain today. Even the debate over cultural integration has come up again in the context of the war on terrorism. The National Curriculum has been forced into that particular fray and been turned to (in my view) rather devious and probably counter-productive use in order to uphold British culture and a definition of ‘being British’ – whatever that means.

Powell declared of cultural integration that it was a myth and that the preservation of immigrant culture would be the means of an immigrant ruling class establishing itself. In many ways, this prophecy has proven correct. Canada is a good example; recently Dalton McGuinty has been accused of racism and others of Islamophobia for attempting to assert that ultimately all religious arbitrations must be subject to secular jurisprudence. Religious arbitration, in the Muslim example, means use of Sharia Law.

Sharia law enshrines the dominance of women by men and its acceptance allows for the creation of a caste of clerics and their wealthy backers – much as existed in Catholic circles in Ireland and Northern Ireland in former days and even today to some extent.

Again I say that the Powell’s answer is found standing on its head. Rather than oppose immigration, we should oppose the self-promulgating elite on the basis of a common class interest. Workers, white, black or turquoise, have a common interest in bettering their living conditions, in securing their children a positive future and in creating a system in which decision makers are directly accountable for each decision, in which society is organised and planned rationally rather than left to anarchic market forces which might mean boom for Britain one moment and bust the next, leaving thousands and hundreds of thousands starving.

That is my dream – one in which the accusation of racism, far from finding political traction, is rendered totally irrelevant to political discourse, where the nation-state ceases to have any meaning beyond the sentimental and where regardless of race, all workers have an equal hand in the management of society.

  1. November 14, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    An excellent post, Dave.

    I think it’s extremely important to make clear to people the role nationalism has in trying to dress up and “civilize” what are racist arguments against immigration. By couching their policies in the rhetoric of nationalism, politicians of all stripes and creeds have been able, on so many issues, from immigration to military and foreign policy obfuscate the actual source of their policies and views.

  2. Carole Heath
    August 11, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    I think was Enoch Powell right is debateable, at the time when the of the rivers of blood rhetoric was uttered by Enoch Powell in the late 60’s many people in this country were divided regarding its content. The lanuage he used regarding the immigrants was to my mind in very bad taste. Of course Powell was a far right politican who i think was a Welsh nationalist at one time. The problem of immigration did not start with the Empire Windrush ship coming from the West Indies as some people think, foreign people have always come to our shores Jews, Irish, dating back to the middle ages look at how many foreign invaders we have had and many other nationalities, i think that immigration should be sorted out if there isn’t room for immigrants and they don’t work and contribute to our society they should not be let in. Many English people lived along- side of immigrants and had no problems but when Powell speech became news they were attacked and spat at in the streets. People forget Britain had an Empire and many immigrants had British passports and thought of this country as their mother country. But i think the current problems are not racist but wanton disorder and theft, it is not only black people doing the terrible things within our society whites too who have no respect for others. Lets hope we have no more of it society needs its citizens to pull together so we can get out of our dilemma’s at the moment.

  1. November 14, 2007 at 10:39 am
  2. November 14, 2007 at 11:41 am
  3. November 14, 2007 at 12:34 pm

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