It’s 50 years since Enoch Powell made his speech concerning mass immigration. A useful enough time to consider what he said and any lessons that might be learned from it. Perhaps the most useful finding being that he was right.
No, not that he was right to make the speech, nor in the somewhat intemperate language he used, nor even whether mass immigration was a good or bad idea. That last, most certainly, is up to each of us to decide for ourselves. But it has changed the country.
In the aftermath of Enoch Powell’s inflammatory 1968 “rivers of blood” speech, which split the nation and instantly became one of modern British history’s most divisive addresses, the fallout was swift and fierce. Protesters took to the streets in support of Powell’s backing for the repatriation of immigrants. Denunciations appeared in newspaper editorials attacking his “appeal to racial hatred” and Powell himself was cast out of the Conservative shadow cabinet, effectively ending his political ambitions. Also caught up in the collateral damage, however, was a small school in his Wolverhampton constituency.
Some interesting figures which I hope I’m recalling correctly from the 2011 Census. BAME is a useful enough but not accurate market of immigration. Among the over 80s we’ve an around 4% BAME population. Among 4 years olds – and I assume this is including all admixtures as BAME – we’ve some 24%.
Whether anyone thinks this is a good or a bad idea is entirely up to them. But it’s obvious that this is actually a change, isn’t it?
How much of a change, well, it’s not as large a genetic change as the arrival of the Beaker People, who essentially wiped out the Neolithic inhabitants of these isles. The Romans and the Normans made large differences to language, governance and so on but not much to the local genome. It would be interesting to know whether the current influx is of the same sort of order as the Angles and Saxons or not. Certainly, a brief think back over our island history suggests that’s the only other episode of similar size.
Enoch was actually right that immigration was going to change things.
What he got wrong was that by raising the point in the manner he did it rather closed down any discussion we might have had about whether it was a good idea or not. A conversation that we still find difficult to have, no?