Friday, April 20, 2007

April 20

On this date in 1968 -- the anniversary of Hitler’s birth -- the reactionary British MP Enoch Powell delivered the most notorious speech of his career. Speaking at the West the West Midlands Conservative Political Centre in Birmingham, Powell discharged a lengthy tirade against an anti-discrimination bill being debated in Parliament.

Warning that immigrants from the British Commonwealth were overwhelming the resources of the UK while diluting its cultural integrity, Powell insisted that the nation was “insane” for permitting undesirable souls from pouring into the country. He likened it to watching a nation “heaping up its own funeral pyre.” Quoting Virgil’s Aeneid, Powell urged his countrymen not to allow the United Kingdom to go the way of the United States:
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.
While the “Rivers of Blood” speech provoked much outrage -- and did nothing to halt the passage of the antidiscrimination law -- Enoch Powell became the George Wallace of his land, a hero to racists and xenophobes and a symbol of unrepentant, white supremacist defiance. Although he received tens of thousands of supportive telegams after the speech, Powell lost his position in the opposition Shadow Cabinet; his sacking led to protests on April 23 among dockworkers and other laborers in London and elsewhere. In due time, Powell’s fellow travelers began offering their support by wearing buttons and pins declaring that “Enoch Was Right.”

(Last year's post.)