On this day in history : 20th April 1968 – Conservative MP Enoch Powell makes his controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech – resulting in his dismissal from the shadow cabinet….
“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood”….
Powell made his speech, attacking the Labour Government’s immigration policy, at the general meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre in Birmingham…. He was MP for Wolverhampton South West…. He claimed Britain was “mad, literally mad” to allow 50,000 dependents of immigrants into the country each year….
“It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre”….
His estimation was that by the year 2000 one in ten of the population, up to 7 million people, would be of immigrant descent…. He called for an immediate reduction in immigration and a policy urgently encouraging those already in the UK to return to their native lands….
Enoch Powell had every intention of stirring things up – and he certainly succeeded….
Leading Conservative front bench MPS were outraged, with many threatening to resign if Powell was not sacked from his position as Shadow Defence Secretary…. When seeking advice from Margaret Thatcher, the leader of the Conservative Party Edward Heath, was told by her that she thought it best to “let things cool down rather than heighten the crisis”…. Nevertheless, that following Sunday evening Heath sacked Powell via a telephone call…. Edward Heath later said in public that Powell’s speech was “racist in tone and liable to exacerbate racial tensions”….
Any hopes Powell had for future postings within the Conservative Party were now dashed…. However, he received overwhelming support from the public…. Letters poured in, thousands of workers came out on strike and marches were organised by protesters – all to show support of his views…. A poll conducted showed 75% of the population were sympathetic to his views….
In February 1974 Powell left the Conservative Party as he disagreed with Edward Heath’s intention of joining the European Community…. Margaret Thatcher, as Prime Minister – and a long standing admirer of Powell – was forced to admit race relations in the country had gone “badly, badly wrong”….
The 2001 census showed there were 4.6 million people of ethnic minority in the United Kingdom…. A far cry from the 7 million Powell had predicted….