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Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' Speech

Enoch Powell by Allan WarrenIn April 1968 Enoch Powell, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West, delivered an infamous speech which became known as the 'rivers of blood' speech. In the speech he stated, 'Like the Roman, I seem to see "the River Tiber foaming with much blood" ', suggesting that continued immigration and the enshiring of race equality legislation might cause future violence and unrest in the UK.

Powell's stances on reducing immigration and introducing repatriation policies generated considerable popular support. At the same time, his speech provoked outrage amongst many people, leading to his immediate dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet by the Conservative leader Edward Heath. 

Critics would refute his statistics and predictions. In 1968 he predicted that by 2000 there would be 7 million people of BME backgrounds

In a press release dated December 1969, Runnymede Director, Dipak Nandy, using figures released by the Home Office, wrote:

These figures for 1969 make nonsense of Mr Powell's assertion... that immigration from the coloured Commonwealth was increasing rather than decreasing. There can be no doubt, on the basis of these figures, that there has been a fairly massive drop in coloured immigration in the past year.

The Census in 2001 recorded 4.6 million people of BME backgrounds.

It has been argued that Powell's inflammatory speech fanned the development of racist viewpoints being disguised with political rhetoric. Lord Campbell of Eskan, a founding trustee of Runnymede, said in a Lords debate the following year, 'The assumption of [Powell's] speeches seems to be that coloured people somehow pollute or corrupt our pure British society, and the greater the numbers the greater the pollution. This is evil and dangerous nonsense. We are a hotch-potch of nationalities. Britain has been a country of immigration throughout its history. British life and culture have been created and enriched by successive waves of immigrants… I believe that this sort of prejudice is a far greater menace to our democratic system and our cultural values than any coloured man, woman or child could possible be. It threatens our rights to call ourselves a civilised society.'

Throughout his political career Enoch Powell continued to be vocal on issues around immigration. In 1974 he left the Conservative Party to join the Ulster Unionist Party.

Audio Interview

Nicholas DeakinNicholas Deakin has worked as a civil servant and in local government and chaired national and local voluntary bodies. He was a founding member of the Runnymede Trust and worked with Jim Rose on the seminal Colour and Citizenship. From 1980 to 1998 he was Professor of Social Policy and Administration at the University of Birmingham. He is currently Vice-Chair of the Baring Foundation.

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