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On This Day… Enoch Powell’s Rivers Of Blood Speech

Written by: George Chittenden : 19 Apr 2019

It was on this day, 20th April, back in 1968 when Enoch Powell delivered his controversial speech to Conservative Party members which resulted in his dismissal. His famous speech is often referred to as his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. During his speech he referred to Virgil’s Aeneid whereby the prophetess predicts civil war in Italy and foresees the River Tiber ‘foaming with blood’. At the time of the speech in 1968, The Race Relations Act was to be read for the second time in Parliament, making it illegal to discriminate against a person for their race, especially in terms of housing. Powell disagreed with the act and called it ‘offensive’ and ‘immoral’. Powell also believed ‘British workers would find themselves strangers in their own countries’ and all immigrants should be ‘sent back’. However, a Gallup poll conducted at the time exposed that 74% of the British public agreed with Powell.

Powell delivering a speech

Powell delivering a speech

He believed within fifteen to twenty years ‘the black man would have the whip hand over the white man’, and this would be the result of unchecked immigration from the Commonwealth. Powell’s attitude towards people of colour may have derived from his fixation with the British empire, which began to fall in the post Second World War era. Powell served in the British Army during The Second World War, the North Africa Campaign and in India.

Enoch Powell

Enoch Powell

Between 1948-1971, many new settlers arrived in the U.K from the Caribbean as part of a recruitment drive by the British government to employ much needed workers for the NHS and London transport. Powell was mainly referring to these migrants in his speech. Whichever way you feel about immigration, you can’t deny that the immigrants Powell referred too were essential in building the greatest healthcare system our world has ever seen.

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