Enoch Powell’s Speech And The Riots Of 1968 and 2011


Here are a few extracts from Enoch Powell’s infinitely demonized April 20, 1968 speech, delivered two weeks after the Martin Luther King riots in northern American cities.

The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils.

In seeking to do so, it encounters obstacles which are deeply rooted in human nature. One is that by the very order of things such evils are not demonstrable until they have occurred: At each stage in their onset there is room for doubt and for dispute whether they be real or imaginary. By the same token, they attract little attention in comparison with current troubles, which are both indisputable and pressing: whence the besetting temptation of all politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future. Above all, people are disposed to mistake predicting troubles for causing troubles and even for desiring troubles: “if only”, they love to think, “if only people wouldn’t talk about it, it probably wouldn’t happen”. Perhaps this habit goes back to the primitive belief that the word and the thing, the name and the object, are identical.

At all events, the discussion of future grave but, with effort now, avoidable evils is the most unpopular and at the same time the most necessary occupation for the politician. Those who knowingly shirk it, deserve, and not infrequently receive, the curses of those who come after.

In fifteen or twenty years, on present trends, there will be in this country 3 1/2 million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants. That is not my figure. That is the official figure given to Parliament by the spokesman of the Registrar General’s office. There is no comparable official figure for the year 2000, but it must be in the region of 5-7 million, approximately one-tenth of the whole population, and approaching that of Greater London.
Of course, it will not be evenly distributed from Margate to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Aberdeen. Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by different sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population.

… Nothing is more misleading than comparison between the Commonwealth immigrant in Britain and the American Negro. The Negro population of the United states, which was already in existence before the United States became a nation, started literally as slaves and were later given the franchise and other rights of citizenship, to the exercise of which they have only gradually and still incompletely come. The Commonwealth immigrant came to Britain as a full citizen, to a country which knows no discrimination between one citizen and another, and he entered instantly into the possession of the rights of every citizen, from the vote to free treatment under the National Health Service. Whatever drawbacks attended the immigrants-and they were drawbacks which did not, and do not, make admission into Britain by hook or by crook appear less than desirable-arose not from the law or from public policy or from administration but from those personal circumstances and accidents which cause, and always will cause, the fortunes and experience of one man to be different for another’s. …

For these dangerous and divisive elements the legislation proposed in the Race Relations Bill is the very pabulum they need to flourish. Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organize to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided.

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”.

That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect.

Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now.

Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know.
All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.

Now, it’s not clear from this speech (although perhaps it is from others) that Powell feared what historian David Starkey called a couple of nights ago “intercommunal violence” of the Bombay-Hindus-whomp-on-Muslims type seen in the opening of Slumdog Millionaire. Powell’s focus was evidently the black American riots of 1965-1968, which weren’t all that intercommunal, although there was some animus against Jewish and other nonblack shopkeepers. They were more “political shopping,” with Civil Rights as an excuse for looting sprees, much like this week’s riots.