Rehabilitating Enoch Powell

Rehabilitating Enoch Powell


Written by: Institute of Race Relations

This week, BBC 2 begins a controversial ‘White season’ which asks ‘is white working class Britain becoming invisible?’ and includes a programme by Denys Blakeway on Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood intervention forty years ago.

IRR’s director, A. Sivanandan, contributed to the programme ‘Rivers of Blood’ due to be shown on 8 March at 9pm – although he obviously had no control over the editing of the film – which has been variously previewed as ‘a sympathetic analysis’ (Financial Times) and ‘a disgrace’ (Socialist Worker).

Should there be any confusion as to Sivanandan’s opinion of Powell and his influence, we republish below his obituary on Powell’s death from Race & Class, Vol.39 no.4, 1998.

A racist for all seasons

“De mortuis nil nisi bonum” may be good enough for Enoch Powell, Latin scholar that he was. But for us “piccaninnies”, speaking the truth is more important.

Enoch Powell was an out and out racist, an educated one certainly, but a racist all the same. His education, in fact, served to give racism a good name and absolved him of being a racist at the same time. A learned man, they all said- the newspapers, the politicians, members of the House of Commons, their Lordships – from Left, Right and Centre – a man of great integrity, fearless in his opinions and free to make them known, mistaken sometimes, but at cost only to himself, a prime minister in the making. Even the doyens of the British Left found him at worst a British nationalist, not a racist.

Racism is as racism does. Enoch Powell changed the parameters of the race debate in Britain both in Parliament and in the country at large, and gave a fillip to popular racism that made the lives of ordinary black people hell. He brought scholarship and reason to white working-class fears and prejudices and, by stirring up their basest emotions with messianic oratory, drove the London dockers and meat porters to march on Parliament to demand the immediate repatriation of ‘the coloureds’, who were taking their jobs, their homes, their daughters. (That there were no black dockers or meat porters made the lie that much more fanatic.) He took the shame out of middle-class racism and made them ready to accept the verdict of the mother of small-minded grocer capitalism, on the eve of her election as prime minister, that the country was being ‘rather swamped’ by people of an alien culture. And, to the genteel racism of the haute bourgeoisie, he brought the comforting message that, even if they had to lose class, they would never have to lose caste: there were still the lesser breeds.

An educated man and a racist. A high church Christian and a racist. A man who virtually gave up the chance of being prime minister in order to be a racist. An unrepentant racist. A racist for all seasons.’

BBC White season programmes include
  • All White In Barking – observing a diverse group of neighbours in East London
  • Last Orders – the members of a Working Men’s Club in Bradford speak out
  • The Poles Are Coming – an entertaining look at the impact of immigration from Eastern Europe
  • The Primary – a term inside a multicultural school in Birmingham
  • Rivers Of Blood – exploring the legacy of Enoch Powell’s controversial speech
  • White Girl – drama about a white working class family who move into a Muslim area

For more information on the rehabilitation of Enoch Powell, see IRR News Comment: The beatification of Enoch Powell.

Related links

BBC White season

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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