Enoch Powell’s 'Rivers of Blood' speech spelt out, in stark terms, the consequences of continuing mass third world immigration into Britain. It was peppered with many apocalyptic allusions including 'those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad - we must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants' and 'it is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre' before ending with the much quoted finale 'as I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood'.
This was not the first speech in which Powell had discussed immigration, since he raised the issue a few months earlier at Walsall where he called for action against the entry of the Kenyan passport holders. In making such speeches Powell was straying well outside his Defence brief and into matters that properly came within the remit of the shadow Home Secretary. His declared motives in highlighting the immigration issue were that it was the responsibility of elected politicians to discuss matters of concern to constituents, and to raise awareness of future problems, so that avoiding action could be taken in good time. Powell drew attention to the fact that millions of ordinary people were privately discussing the question of immigration, but that politicians of all parties appeared to treat it as an almost taboo subject. He predicted that, if the then current levels of immigration continued, and the higher level of fertility of the immigrant communities was maintained, the ethnic population of Britain would be in the region of five to seven million by the year 2000. Such a population would not be evenly distributed but rather “whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population”. Powell warned that delay in addressing the issue would only make the problem worse and more intractable. However, he correctly identified that a remedy was at hand 'by stopping….further inflow, and by promoting the maximum outflow'.
Powell was particularly scathing about what he termed the 'insane' practice of allowing 'unmarried persons to immigrate for the purpose of founding a family with spouses and fiancés whom they have never seen'. Such a policy was allowing into the country 'a further 25,000 dependants per annum ad infinitum, without taking into account the huge reservoir of existing relations in this country'. He demanded that 'in these circumstances nothing will suffice but that the total inflow for settlement should be reduced at once to negligible proportions and that the necessary legislative and administrative measures be taken without delay'. Powell rightly pointed out that ending immigration was not enough and that in addition it had to be accompanied by 'the urgency of implementing now the second element of the Conservative Party's policy - the encouragement of re-emigration'. Incredible as it may now seem, this was, indeed, official Conservative policy at the time and a provision to this effect would be included in the Immigration Act 1971. However, in government, the promotion of the measure was virtually non-existent. In contrast, Powell stressed that it should be 'pursued with the determination which the gravity of the alternative justifies, the resultant outflow could appreciably alter the prospects'.
Powell covered other issues raised by immigration in his speech. In considering the rights that should be enjoyed by the ethnic population, he declared that there should be no second class citizens in Britain, but pointedly added 'This does not mean that the immigrant and his descendant should be elevated into a privileged or special class or that the citizen should be denied his right to discriminate in the management of his own affairs between one fellow-citizen and another, or that he should be subjected to imposition as to his reasons and motive for behaving in one lawful manner rather than another'. Powell then moved on to the issue of discrimination, which then, as now, was disproportionably exercising the delicate consciences of liberals. He rightly pointed out the true nature of the concern in these terms 'the discrimination and the deprivation, the sense of alarm and of resentment, lies not with the immigrant population but with those among whom they have come and are still coming' adding that 'whatever drawbacks attended the immigrants 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 from another'. He then focused on the nub of the problem, ignored by virtually all other political leaders, before and since, that 'while, to the immigrant, entry to this country was admission to privileges and opportunities eagerly sought, the impact upon the existing population was very different. For reasons which they could not comprehend, and in pursuance of a decision, by default, on which they were never consulted, they found themselves made strangers in their own country'. The crucial point here is that the British people were never consulted on whether they wanted mass third world immigration or what is now termed a 'multi-cultural society'.
Powell moved on to express what, he believed, to be the true feelings and views of the indigenous population by declaring that 'they found their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated; at work they found that employers hesitated to apply to the immigrant worker the standards of discipline and competence required of the native-born worker; they began to hear, as time went by, more and more voices which told them that they were now the unwanted'. Powell then went on to condemn the Labour government’s Race Relations Bill as a 'law which cannot, and is not intended to, operate to protect [the indigenous population] or redress their grievances [but rather] is to be enacted to give the stranger, the disgruntled and the agent-provocateur the power to pillory them for their private actions'. Powell then attacked the then current liberal fad for 'integration', which, unbeknown to all concerned, was soon to be quietly replaced by 'multi-culturalism'. He acknowledged that a small minority of immigrants had made a determined effort to integrate, but realised that 'to imagine that such a thing enters the heads of a great and growing majority of immigrants and their descendants is a ludicrous misconception, and a dangerous one'. This was a viewpoint that, in principle, liberals were soon to share.
Powell realised that immigrant 'numbers and physical concentration meant the pressures towards integration which normally bear upon any small minority [will] not operate'. He then goes on to accurately predict a multi-cultural Britain in which there will be a 'growth of positive forces acting against integration, of vested interests in the preservation and sharpening of racial and religious differences, with a view to the exercise of actual domination, first over fellow-immigrants and then over the rest of the population'. Powell concluded with a further condemnation of the Race Relations Bill that it 'is the means of showing that the [ethnic] communities can organise 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'. He feared that the American experience of race riots would be visited upon us 'by our own volition and our own neglect'. He ended with the words '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'.
This was unquestionably a historic speech, of incredible boldness, which mercilessly exposed the wilful blindness of successive governments on an issue of crucial national importance. Powell accurately predicted the potentially unlimited growth of the ethnic population and its distribution into ghettos. He identified the disproportionate concern given to allegations of discrimination against the ethnic population, contrasted this with the near complete disregard of the fears of the indigenous population on the 'open ended' nature of immigration, exposed the naiveté of policy on integration and anticipated the cultural separation of much of the ethnic population from mainstream society. Most importantly, Powell also came forward with the only credible policy for permanently addressing the problem, namely ending all further third world immigration and instituting a well funded high profile programme of offering financial incentives to persuade the ethnic population to return to their countries of origin or ancestry. Unfortunately Powell, rather unwisely, quoted verbatim from letters he had received from constituents, which contained some pejorative comments and negative generalised assumptions about the ethnic population. Many critics, either deliberately or through ignorance, attributed these views to Powell himself, and this chorus of self-righteous indignation distracted media attention from the main arguments in Powell’s speech.