‘Powell proved wrong’

Deputy leader of the Lib Dems
in the Lords
by LORD NAVNIT DHOLAKIA Deputy leader of the Lib Dems in the Lords


SOME decades have passed since Enoch Powell, the then member of Parliament for Wolverhampton South West, made the infamous Riv­ers of Blood speech.

Here are his actual words: “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”

He then added: “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.”

Powell was addressing a meeting of the Conservative Political Centre on April 20, 1968 in Birmingham. The speech had profound impact on im­migration issues in the UK.

London dockers and immigration staff unions marched in support of Powell; it was a phenomenon unseen in those years. Prime minister Edward Heath had no alternative than to sack Powell.

Following the dismantling of the Brit­ish empire from 1947 onwards, it was clear policymakers had no answer to “push and pull” factors that have deter­mined the immigration policy in the UK.

All Commonwealth citizens had a right to enter Britain without any hin­drance. The floods, famine and lack of economic opportunities in the new­ly-independent nations left a sizeable population to migrate in search of building a new future for themselves.

In the case of people from the West Indies, Britain was the motherland and they were coming to help rebuild Britain after the devastation suffered in the two world wars.

The immigration figures from the late-1950s put the number of people coming from Commonwealth in boon years to over 100,000 a year.

Migration was purely economical. More people came to Britain when there was economic prosperity here than during the lean years. During his general election campaign in 1959, Harold Macmillan had coined the slo­gan: “You never had it so good.” It was not surprising that migrants came here to share in that prosperity.

Britain had not planned for such a number and had no answer other than to control the numbers through vari­ous immigration acts. The 1962 gen­eral election saw immigration become a political issue. Peter Griffiths, a Con­servative candidate in Smethwick constituency, openly used emotive race issues as a factor and ended the career of Patrick Gordon Walker, who was the shadow foreign minister.

The loss of Walker had profound impact on the then prime minister Har­old Wilson. Wilson called Peter Grif­fiths “a parliamentary leper”, but with­in a couple of years established further quotas to reduce the number of Com­monwealth citizens coming to Britain.

Powell was singularly unhappy about the introduction of the Race Relations legislation, and the Conserv­ative Party made considerable efforts to reduce the impact of this in 1968.

Whichever way commentators now interpret Powell’s speech, it is clear that over the years he has been proved wrong. Ethnic minorities make a ma­jor contribution in the economic field. Their contribution in the social and political field is now increasing. Look at Eastern Eye’s Asian Rich List, pub­lished by the Asian Marketing Group.

Who would have thought that some of the political constituencies surrounding Wolverhampton South West will have many MPs from our di­verse communities?

Powell was wrong in his predictions because we now have a confident eth­nic community playing its full part in their adopted country. The second and subsequent generations are to be seen playing an important role in many spheres of different careers. There is a fusion of music, dress and food.

With the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) upon us, it is clear that Britain after Brexit will be more reliant in its trade with these countries. The settled migrant diaspora can make a major contribution here. It is time we salute our new communities.