Enoch Powells Rivers of Blood Speech
Enoch Powell was intellectually one of the most gifted politicians of his era, reading ancient Greek when most children are struggling with the cat sat on the mat; taking a double starred first in Latin and Greek at Trinity College Cambridge ; appointed Professor of Greek at Sydney University when just 25.
Enoch Powell ’s most famous moment came on Saturday April 20 1968, when he made what has become known as The Rivers of Blood speech. Given to a meeting of Conservatives at the Midland Hotel in Birmingham, this speech began with the story of a white Englishman determined to see his sons emigrate because of immigration into Britain (though Powell did not see the irony in that starting point). It used the highly objectionable and racist term piccanninies, and called the immigration at that time something “To which there is no parallel in 1,000 years of English history,” (speaking in 1968 he thus conveniently ruled out the Norman Conquest and the arrival of the Angles, Saxons , Jutes, Norsemen , and Celts).
The speech gets its popular title from Powell’s use within it of a classical allusion, the sibylline prophecy of the Tiber flowing with blood found in the Aeneid. The tone throughout is that immigrants were of lesser worth than the white population, and a threat like that of Hitler in the 1930s, making those who wanted to make immigration work in his eyes appeasers.
However extreme and patently racist his view, it found many sympathisers at the time, but it had the opposite effect to that intended, polarising debate into those who saw no good in immigration and those who were blind to any problems, or perhaps were scared to discuss such problems for fear of siding with his racist standpoint.
Powell was rapidly sacked from Ted Heath ’s shadow cabinet, and in 1974 left the Conservative Party, though he went on to represent South Down as an Ulster Unionist for a further 13 years.
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