April 21, 1968 – British Politician Enoch Powell Delivers “Rivers of Blood” Speech Against Immigration

Enoch Powell was a Conservative right-winger in Great Britain who is most famous for attacking his government’s immigration policy at a meeting in Birmingham, in a speech now known as the “Rivers of Blood” speech.

Enoch Powell

In this speech Powell argued that “we must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents.” He added, “as I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’ ”

He further estimated, playing to the fears of his audience, that by the year 2000 up to seven million people – or one in ten of the population – would be of immigrant descent.

The Times of London called it “an evil speech,” and the first direct appeal to “racial hatred” made by a senior British politician. Mr. Powell was summarily dismissed from his post by the Conservative party leader, Edward Heath.

Nevertheless, thousands of workers staged strikes and marches in support of his views and he was inundated with letters from well wishers. The Birmingham Mail reported that “A poll at the time suggested that 74 per cent of the UK population agreed with Powell’s opinions and his supporters claim that this large public following which Powell attracted helped the Conservatives to win the 1970 general election.”

As British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor wrote for the New York Times in December, 2016:

There are parallels between the way Mr. Powell gave voice to white working-class anxiety and Mr. Trump’s primary campaigning. And like Mr. Trump, Mr. Powell discovered a ready audience: A Gallup poll a few weeks later found that 74 percent of those surveyed agreed with what Mr. Powell had said. For immigrants like my father, who arrived in Britain from Pakistan in the early 1960s, it wasn’t Mr. Powell’s words that were frightening so much as that so many seemed to agree with them.”

Illustration of Trump and Powell from the New York Times

He continued:

Mr. Trump, like Mr. Powell before him, speaks for those convulsed by fear. In his 1968 speech, Mr. Powell quoted a constituent who dreaded a future when “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” That paranoia — an ugly delusion that inverts the actual history of slavery — was unfounded. Yet what is striking today is that though Mr. Powell was cast into the wilderness for his views, arguably his warning about the challenges to social cohesion from immigration was prescient.”

You can read the entire “Rivers of Blood” speech by Powell here.

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