No rivers of blood, but scant racial harmony
Forty years after Enoch Powell’s speech, is it time to admit he had a point, asks Theo Hobson
On Sunday, at the same Birmingham hotel where Powell made his famous speech, equal opportunities boss Trevor Phillips explained that Britain was gravitating towards racial segregation.
There have not been rivers of blood, he said, but "we have seen the emergence of a kind of cold war in some parts of the country, where very separate communities exist side by side... with poor communication across racial or religious lines". He also warned the government not to ignore the concerns of the 'settled' population, and has previously said that white people often have a genuine case for complaint when immigrants jump the housing queue.
Didn't Powell say much the same thing 40 years ago? Wasn't he warning that high levels of immigration would cause tension between different communities, and that the fears of the white working-class should be taken seriously rather than treated with liberal scorn?
According to Rivers of Blood, The Real Source, a recent radio programme, Powell's speech was motivated by his worry that politics would become dominated by racial factionalism; what he called 'communalism'.
He was influenced by the violence that followed partition in his beloved India, and also by the US race riots - so was he just being realistic about the likely consequences of mass immigration?
Though there is some overlap between what Powell and Phillips have said, it shouldn't be overstated. Powell's 'realistic' analysis was guilty of inflaming racism. He did not merely mediate the concerns of nervous whites; he amplified them, lent them new authority.
Phillips, by contrast, is capable of being realistic about the dangers that immigration brings, without his rhetoric making the situation worse. The contrast with Powell ought to remind us of the uniquely valuable role that Phillips is playing in public life. ·
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