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Enoch Powell: Racist or Prescient?

30 April 2018

In April 2018 there was quite a  fuss about the 50th anniversary (20 April) of Enoch Powell’s notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech. For example, Powell was described as “quite dishonest” by The Independent’s Sean O’Grady. Sky News’ Lewis Goodall argued at length that Powell was a racist and a populist. As reported by the likes of The Guardian’s Mark Sweeney and the Evening Standard’s Fiona Simpson , the BBC’s Radio 4 came under intense criticism for having broadcast the speech transcript (with critical analysis). Several expert contributors publicly dissociated themselves from the broadcast while former transport minister Lord Andrew Adonis threatened he would raise the matter in Parliament.

So, it seemed appropriate to look again at Powell’s speech from an Integrated SocioPsychology perspective, explore how racist it really was, how prescient it was and how the contemporary United Kingdom looks in terms of Powell’s predictions and their impact.

How relevant it is to today’s political landscape  is illustrated by Matthew d’Ancona who writes in The Guardian: “Powell was wrong about so much. Yet Powellism found its purest expression in the 2016 EU referendum result, which enshrined the convergence of two of his greatest fixations: hostility to immigration and opposition to Britain’s membership of the EU. Nigel Farage’s disgusting ‘breaking point’ poster was the clearest expression of this fusion. But it would be a mistake to imagine that neo-Powellism is confined to the dwindling ranks of Ukip. Since the referendum, we have heard Tory ministers suggesting that companies should keep lists of foreign workers, that doctors born overseas were elbowing aside British teenagers who might otherwise read medicine, that foreigners should not aspire to settle here. As Ken Clarke warned in January 2017, Powell himself ‘would probably find it amazing to believe that his party had become Eurosceptic and rather mildly anti-immigrant in a strange way’.”

A full transcript of Powell´s speech is available on Telegraph Online (2007). Below is an excerpt from Michael Cockerell’s documentary about Powell, including some extracts from the infamous speech. (Copyright © 1995 BBC TV.)


I was nearly 14.5 years old at the time and just starting to become politically aware – mainly through my interest in American hippie rock groups like The Mamas & The Papas and Jefferson Airplane. Their heady mix of RED indulgence and GREEN-tinged espousals of egalitarianism captured my young imagination. So, as my embryonic political consciousness grew, I all too readily fell in with the views of the liberal intelligentsia, that Powell was a racist, intent on kicking out the immigrants and keeping ‘Britain for the British’. He argued for repatriation – a polite form of ‘ethnic cleansing’, as we would call it today.

As I’ve matured over the years – and especially through my exposure to the Gravesian approach – I’ve come to doubt the issues around Powell’s speech are as simple as the liberal-influenced media and politicians of the time made them out to be. And which many have done since…and still do. Hence the vitriol heaped on Powell’s memory for the 50th anniversary!

Was Powell a racist?
Powell certainly wanted Britain and Northern Ireland for the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish and to protect what he saw as the heritage of the indigenous (white) peoples of our Kingdom, both united and the constituent peoples pre-union(s) (Simon Heffer, 1999).

He saw racial identity as the basis of nationalism. Powell biographer Robert Shepherd (1997, p365) quotes him as saying in a 1996 BBC interview: “Racism is the basis of a nationality. Nations are, upon the whole, united by identity with one another, the self-identification of our citizens, and that’s normally due to similarities which are regarded as racial differences.”

Of course, as Benedict Anderson (1981) points out, nationalism is not really based on race. Rather, it is a social construct. A nation identifying itself as French or American or Russian is what Anderson calls an imagined community. It doesn’t exist in reality but the concept is spread through mind-brains. Millions of people who have little or nothing in common can be bound together through the meme of national identity…and then manipulated by politicians and the media, supposedly in the ‘national interest’. So Powell’s nationalism can be meta-stated as a political convenience, a means to galvanise people to support him, the champion of ‘Britishness’.

Beyond race as the basis for nationhood, it’s doubtful Powell was really a racist in the supremacist way most people understand the term. On several occasions, he made statements such as this, in a letter to the Wolverhampton Express & Star in October 1964: “I have and always will set my face like flint against making any difference between one citizen of this country and another on grounds of his origins” (Humphry Berkeley, 1972). Similarly Heffer (1999) cites Powell, when asked on David Frost’s TV programme in 1969 if he was a ‘racialist’, as saying : “…if you mean a man who despises a human being because he belongs to another race, or a man who believes that one race is inherently superior to another, then the answer is emphatically ‘No’.”

Further confounding the issue of whether Powell could be considered an out-and-out racist is his comment in November 1968 that the problems that would be caused if there were a large influx of Germans or Russians into the UK “would be as serious – and in some respects more serious – than could follow from the introduction of a similar number of West Indies or Pakistanis” (Shepherd, p365). For Powell, it seems to have been more about the large-scale immigration of people who were different to the indigenous peoples rather than specifically the colour of someone’s skin.

Powell even engaged in an explicitly anti-racist discourse during a parliamentary debate in July 1959 about the unwarranted killing of Kenyan Mau Mau by British troops. In response to another MP dismissing the killings as murders because the victims were ‘sub-human’, Powell stated: “In general, I would say that it is a fearful doctrine, which must recoil upon the heads of those who pronounce it, to stand in judgement on a fellow human being and to say, ‘Because he was such-and-such, therefore the consequences which would otherwise flow from his death shall not flow’.” (Rex Collings, 1991).

Unfortunately, it seems Powell did not speak out similarly against the white-on-black and white-on-Asian gang assaults that took place in the wake of the ‘rivers of blood’ speech and he did little to qualify the simplistic anti-black, anti-Asian rhetoric that appeared in some hard-right media, claiming it reflected his views. Whether this reticence actually reflected Powell’s real, hidden racism or it was merely convenient for an ambitious politician’s RED to ignore the crimes of his power base, it is difficult to determine 50 years after the events.

However, Heffer notes that in 1974 Powell became an Ulster Unionist MP, having turned down an offer to join the explicitly racist/whites-only National Front. Thus, Powell, on the face of it, eschewed outright racism to pursue his nationalistic vision of a strengthened United Kingdom.

So, if Powell wasn’t being racist in the supremacist sense of the word, what was he about with the ‘rivers of blood’ speech and the many defences and extemporisations of it he made over the years…?

Was Powell prescient?
Over the past 10 years or so immigration has become increasingly a huge issue for public debate, especially amongst what might be termed the traditional white working class – see Is restricting Immigration discriminatory – and it has been manipulated by the Plutocracy and their elite lackeys in government and the media. (See: How the Plutocrats are waging War on the Bureaucrats.) So, when Powell railed against untrammelled immigration, was he seeing – anticipating – something that most politicians of his day didn’t?

History has shown that some of his predictions were pure hysteria. “In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” patently has not come true. Nor were immigrants and their descendants “approximately one-tenth of the whole population” by 2000 – though in 2018 they are on their way to that kind of figure. (The 2011 census showed Asian Muslims alone to be just under 5% of the population.)

However, Powell was prescient in predicting how they would be distributed: “Of course, it will not be evenly distributed from Margate to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Aberdeen. Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population.” With more brown faces than white in some parts of Bradford, Birmingham, Leicester, etc, etc, and mosques and gurdwaras being much better attended than most churches, the population densities of immigrants and their descendants in parts of some towns and cities clearly fit with Powell’s prediction.

Powell was also prescient in predicting that among immigrant and immigrant-descended communities there would be those with “vested interests in the preservation and sharpening of racial and religious differences, with a view to the exercise of actual domination, first over fellow-immigrants and then over the rest of the population”. If you consider the actions of fundamentalist Muslims – especially those who are radical enough to want Sharia law imposed in the UK – then clearly their intentions and behaviours fit Powell’s prediction. Indeed, Simon Heffer (2015), writing in the Daily Telegraph, argues that the Islamist attacks in Paris that November proved Powell was right.

Powell was certainly prescient in saying, with respect to the effects of large-scale immigration: “We are on the verge here of a change…undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history.”

Britain has changed massively as a result of the immigration Powell was so concerned about. A simple walk down most British high streets will confirm that. Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi restaurants and take-aways abound, mixed in with a smattering of Chinese, Turkish, Thai, Lebanese, etc, etc. Interestingly, most of the customers are white – and they come in such plentiful numbers that more and more of these establishments open. It’s not the same Britain it was 50 years ago. Our palettes – and much else besides – have changed. As it is mostly British whites who patronise these restaurants and take-aways, it is reasonable to assume that most of them don’t have too much of a problem with immigrants and their descendants running them. At least some of the changes Powell feared have taken place; but clearly a very significant proportion of the white (indigenous) population are not unhappy about it.

As for the ‘rivers of blood’ Powell prophesied, beyond periodic ‘race riots’ (most notably in 1981 and 2001), there has been relatively little blood split. Even in the so-called race riots, with a few exceptions, serious causalities have been fairly low. Other than the riots, it is more often single acts of violence which have been carried out on Asian Muslims by whites, often stimulated by the negative publicity surrounding some Islamist act of terrorism. Tim Newburn (2013) states that research shows blacks and Asians are far more likely to be the victims of ‘hate crimes’ than whites.

There has been a serious rise in hate crime since the 2016 referendum, as reported by The Independent’s May Bulman (2017) among others. It is almost as if the narrow repudiation of EU membership has freed the PURPLE/RED zealotry of some of the ‘Leavers’ from the BLUE laws against racism so they can exercise their xenophobia about ‘others’ – whether Eastern Europeans or the descendants of black and Asian immigrants.

Did Powell understand PURPLE tribalism?
For someone with an understanding of the Gravesian approach, the tendency of immigrants to cluster in enclaves or ghettos is entirely predictable – exactly as Powell prophesied. The PURPLE vMEME seeks safety in belonging. In a strange country with a majority population who look different to you (colour of skin), dress differently and have many different values and norms, it’s not unnatural for PURPLE to seek safety with its own ‘kind’. If experiences with the host population are not always positive due to racism and other forms of discrimination, then this accentuates the drive to be with your own ‘kind’.

In previous eras, there has been this clustering of immigrants and refugees – as the historical and sizeable Jewish communities in London and Leeds and the Irish in Liverpool and Glasgow demonstrate all too well. To some degree, this tendency for immigrants to hive off into their own enclaves has been replicated with the droves of Eastern Europeans who came into the UK from the European Union after 2005.

John Berry (1997) identifies 4 acculturation strategies immigrants can take:-

  • Assimilation occurs when individuals adopt the cultural norms of a dominant or host culture, over their original culture
  • Separation occurs when individuals reject the dominant or host culture in favour of preserving their culture of origin – separation is often facilitated by immigration into ethnic enclaves
  • Integration occurs when individuals are able to adopt the cultural norms of the dominant or host culture while maintaining their culture of origin – integration leads to, and is often synonymous with biculturalism
  • Marginalisation occurs when individuals reject both their culture of origin and the dominant host culture

In his ‘rivers of blood’ speech, Powell did recognise that a proportion of immigrants do want to ‘assimilate’ – to use Berry’s term, though Powell uses ‘integrate’. “Now, at all times, where there are marked physical differences, especially of colour, integration is difficult though, over a period, not impossible. There are among the Commonwealth immigrants who have come to live here in the last fifteen years or so, many thousands whose wish and purpose is to be integrated and whose every thought and endeavour is bent in that direction.”

One of Powell’s chief  concerns is immigrants who ‘separate’ – rejecting British values and norms and “sharpening…racial and religious differences”, as indeed a small minority of radical Muslims currently do. Steve Bruce (2002) sees this as cultural defence – where an ethnic minority feels threatened by the host majority, they invest themselves all the more in their traditions, cultural norms and religion.

The sense of being threatened by ‘others’, however, goes both ways as Powell made clear: “The discrimination and the deprivation, the sense of alarm and of resentment, lies not with the immigrant population but with those among whom they have come and are still coming.”

In retrospect, it is clearly an example of what Irving Janis (1972) termed groupthink, but on a large scale, for the governments of the 1960s and 1970s to think they could allow large numbers of immigrants to come into the UK, many from very different cultures, without strategies to prepare both the immigrants and the host communities for integration. The GREEN vMEME ruled thinking among the intelligentsia, with little attention paid to the concerns of  millions of working class whites, simply written off as ‘racists’. In the aftermath of Powell’s sacking from the Shadow Cabinet by Conservative leader Edward Heath, there was a whole range of strikes and protest demonstrations – often numbering in the thousands. 600 Smithfield meat porters even marched on Parliament to show support for Powell! A Gallup opinion poll at the end of April 1968 found 74% of respondents thought Powell was right.

Smithfield meat porters rallying in support of Powell, April 1968 (Photo copyright © 1968 William Lovelace/Getty Images)

While there is some evidence of fascists and far-right agitators leading some of the protests and thus distorting their significance – Richard Norton Taylor & Seumus Milne (1999) – the large amount of support Powell received should have alerted the Government that their immigration and race relations strategies were a long way from receiving anything like universal support. But 1st Tier vMEMES, especially the closer they are to the nodal point in their arcs, tend to reject alternate viewpoints, holding that only their views are correct and there must be something wrong with people holding different views – ie: the False Consensus Effect. Thus, the ‘progressive’  GREEN of government ministers could dismiss or ignore the ‘tribal’ PURPLE concerns of many of their citizens.

On a smaller scale Angela Merkel made a similar mistake in allowing over 1 million refugees into Germany in 2015 without adequate preparation for either German people or the refugees. GREEN charitable concerns for Syrian refugees overrode both ORANGE pragmatism and PURPLE tribalism. It can be argued her party paid heavily for her mistake in the 2017 elections when immigration was a key issue, as The Guardian’s Mary Dejevsky points out.

So how is the UK now?
50 years of anti-discrimination legislation – consolidated in the Equality Act 2010 – the theme of equality applied throughout Education, the taste for food more exotic than ‘traditional English’ and the high profile visibility of many popular black and Asian sportspeople, entertainers and politicians have all contributed to the general acceptance of diversity of people and culture in the UK. Perhaps as much as any of these has been simple familiarity through intermingling over time. As explored in Is Racism Natural…?, fear of difference is biologically wired and is adaptive; but familiarity with what is different lessens the fear response over time. Thus, many people in the UK, 50 years on from the ‘rivers of blood’ speech, are content to sit, work, play, eat, have sex and even have children with others of different ethnicity, culture and religion.

According to Leonie Jackson (2018), “successful integration is evident everywhere and every day; in politics, sport and the media, through to widespread intermarriage, diverse work spaces, and youth subcultures from Ska to Bhangra to Grime”. Whether successful assimilation and integration is quite as “evident everywhere and every day” to quite the degree of harmony Jackson asserts is, however, a moot point. Particularly amongst the working classes, people still tend to live in ethnic enclaves and some only mix marginally in schools or the workplace. Levels of support for far-right white supremacy groups like the English Defence League and Britain First are low but nonetheless disturbing for a liberal democracy.

That the so-called ‘Windrush Scandal’ occurred across the weeks of the 50th anniversary of ‘rivers of blood’ and eventually cost Home Secretary Amber Rudd her job is tellingly ironic. ORANGE pragmatism and GREEN empathy for the ill-treated descendants of immigrants – even displayed to some degree in the right-wing media – triumphed over PURPLE/RED xenophobia and RED/BLUE zealotry. At its core, the UK still appears to be what Tony Blair termed a ‘decent society’ (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, 1996).

So where does that leave us? A largely liberal and tolerant society with…

  • a nasty anti-immigrant and racist underbelly readily manipulated by the Elite media and from time to time bursting the veneer of civility with vicious attacks on Asians, blacks and Eastern Europeans..?
  •  groups of descendants of immigrants – “sharpening…racial and religious differences” – primarily Islamists seeking the widescale implementation of Sharia law and, in the extreme, the UK  becoming part of an Islamic caliphate..?

Doubtless, some would argue that there is a third undesirable element: the black ‘gangsta’ crime culture and the gun and knife attacks that go with it. However, it would almost certainly be difficult to separate this out from general drug crime and gang culture as it has no ideological or specifically racial basis.

That the UK is largely peaceful and ethnic tensions are mostly below the surface, with the big issues referred to mostly ‘dealable with’ – if not exactly under control! – is a very positive reflection of the way our kingdom has managed the greatly-increased diversity of its peoples. However, there are cracks in this state which mean its permanency is almost certainly not guaranteed.

Where do we go from here…?
As Social Identity Theory demonstrates, wherever people subscribe to different identities – and PURPLE drives us to identify with our own ‘kind’ so we can be safe – then there exists the very real potential for social division and the conflict that so often goes with it. Enoch Powell, it seems clear, recognised this. With it increasingly recognised that GREEN-driven multiculturalism has failed as an ideological imperative for people to simply get on with mixing together and valuing each other’s cultural norms and values equally – see David Cameron’s right about Multiculturalism BUT… – how is the UK to cope with future shifts in status amongst its different ethnic groups?

The relative percentages of descendants of immigrants to (indigenous) whites in the population is almost certainly likely to increase in favour of the former. As discussed in Islamification: Europe’s Challenge, this will also almost certainly bring a stronger demand for Islamic influence in politics and ethics in the kingdom. A growth in a more moderate Islamic influence could give the UK back the ‘BLUE backbone’ Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck noted it had lost at the time of HemsMESH. (Don attributed the relative lack of morality in the UK to the GREEN influence in the Christian churches abandoning strict moral codes.) However, Muslims collectively in the UK have to distance themselves substantially from radical Islamism to avoid being seem as threatening the Western ‘way of life’. Even then, moderate Islam as a political force, could be seen as threatening on issues like homosexuality – as discussed in What will Islam do for Homosexuals?

Is the white (indigenous) population frightened of such changes in the UK? Certainly research in the USA has indicated fear of loss of electoral status and influence led a number of white voters to support Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Eg: Brenda Major, Alison Blodorn & Gregory Major Blascovich (2016) found that, if people who strongly identified as white were told that non-white groups will outnumber white people by 2042, they became more likely to support Trump.

50 years ago Powell’s answer, of course, was to repatriate immigrants before such seismic demographic changes could even begin to take shape. However, in the UK today, short of an outright Fascist government coming to power in the next 10 years and enabling enforced repatriation of immigrants and their descendants – though repatriation to ‘where’ would be an existential question as their great-grandparents’ countries of origin probably wouldn’t want them – we have what we have. There is simply no way of unpicking the past 50-60 years of immigration and the effects it has had on British society.

Clearly there are multiple complex issues surrounding immigration, ethnic growth and diversity and the kind of society the UK should grow into. From the ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968 through to the British National Party’s Nick Griffin squeaking onto the BBC’s Question Time in 2009, it was all but impossible for a mainstream politician to raise these issues without being branded ‘racist’. Thus, it’s already rather late to pick up and shape properly the reasoned debate that should have emerged from Powell’s speech. Now, in 2018 we have very different life conditions from those in 1968. While, there is no turning back from 2018 – 1968 is long gone and we have what we have – there are fundamental issues about managing ethnic and religious diversity and designing shared futures that need to be addressed. And sooner rather than later.

At the time of writing, I am not aware of any mainstream politician not associated with the hard right who is talking about these issues or calling for the debates we need to have.


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3 Responses

  1. Anjin Bodhisattva says

    Putting aside the (very elegant) spiral analysis and justifications for a moment, and stripping away the politics and race baiting, the gut feeling that arises is that many of the people opposing immigration, as well as the immigrants themselves, are simply concerned with economic and personal security. Things we take for granted like food and the ability to walk down their own streets in peace. The problem is that systemic overwhelm created by rapid and indiscriminate influx has made assimilation much more difficult and skewed things toward separation. It was completely predictable to anyone who grew up in an American city. Americans called no-go zones “ghettos”. Unfortunately there are extensive political and economic bureaucracies that benefit from separation. Here in the US many of their targets are waking up and successfully assimilating, and going on to take positive actions in their communities; but many face tremendous obstacles as minorities within minorities.

    • Keith E Rice says

      Anjin, I think you’ve hit one of the nails on the head when you write: “The problem is that systemic overwhelm created by rapid and indiscriminate influx has made assimilation much more difficult and skewed things toward separation.” That was the Brits’ mistake in the 1960s and Angela Merkel’s in 2015.

      You can’t just put different (PURPLE) tribes together. There have to be strategies and huge amounts of preparation for all sides. Even when the tribes are successfully co-existing, cooperating and even collaborating, the potential for tribal identities to re-emerge is never far away. As Tajfel & Turner’s Social Identity Theory shows us, as soon as we categorise ourselves into one group, you get an in-group/out-group effect with all its potential for violence. The wars in the former Soviet Union and the breaking-up of Yugoslavia show how PURPLE tribal identities can be resurrected and inflamed to war by RED-driven demagogues when a monolithic BLUE superstructure collapses. (In these cases, the Communist state.)

      IMHO, you’re also right about the “extensive political and economic bureaucracies that benefit from separation”. This is partly reflected in Pulling out the old ‘Polish immigrants stealing our jobs’ or ‘Muslim Sharia Law for UK’ headlines is a regular ploy for the Plutocrats’ elite lackeys in the media. Keeps the ‘little people’ divided and from looking too closely at just how the 1% have accumulated so much wealth and power.


      • Carol Thornton says

        Which is, of course, why funding for education has been cut. Education helps people to rise above the purple and red levels and enables them to assimilate more easily, but it also reduces the power of the plutocrats. So cut the funding, and keep them at war with each other.