A couple of days ago was the fiftieth anniversary of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech. Lots of things happened fifty years ago – it shows what a turbulent time it was.
There have been a few programmes on tv to mark this anniversary. But they have all been of the form 50 years on. So they’ve all been produced from some kind of retrospective viewpoint. Not that this detracts from them, but I must admit that I have only ever heard snippets of the speech, so I was hoping to just hear the original speech in full. I’m quite happy that I can do the analysis myself.
One such programme was on last night. One of the most interesting things that I learned was that not much footage of the speech still existed – I think only 3 of around 20 minutes, so this maybe explains why I’ve only ever heard snippets. I find this quite staggering since the media turned up in large numbers, having been tipped off that Powell was about to say something incendiary. So it is hardly as if nobody appreciated the significance. And Ted Heath very quickly booted Powell out of the shadow cabinet, so again the message was picked up very shortly afterwards.
So my viewing didn’t quite yield what I’d hoped for. But I carried on searching. I couldn’t find any audio recordings (at that time, radio might well have been as prevalent as tv is now) but I did find a transcript of the speech at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3643823/Enoch-Powells-Rivers-of-Blood-speech.html. This is the web site of quite a well-renowned UK newspaper, although as with all newspaper sites (it seems), you have to wait for the ads to load.
Powell used very eloquent language, he was a very eloquent man, but there was a definite subliminal message to his speech. On the face of it, he could have claimed that he was just reporting what other people had said to him, as certainly his apologists did, although the lack of counter-balancing argument made it quite clear (to me, at any rate) that he was taking a definite side in the debate. I mean, given the instant notoriety of the speech, this was obviously pretty clear to other people as well. Plus, when he talks about what to do about this “problem”, he is far more explicit. To a small extent, I see the same kind of thing as I see today – instead of telling you how good his idea is, tell you how bad his opponent’s is, although to be fair, this is a lot worse today. Many people today just go straight for how bad a person their opponent is, leaving the ideas out altogether.
But please, judge for yourself. It’s worth reading, just so you don’t then have to rely on other people’s interpretations. I think it is always better to draw your own conclusions on things.
NOTE: You might find this link a little easier. It’s not footage of the actual speech, but instead somebody reading the transcript. Will be easier on the eyes if you’re someone like me!