What Enoch Powell got right does as much to undermine the arguments of his imitators as his mistakes.
This summer, like much of the rest of Britain’s political class; I spent an awful lot of time pounding the pavements of Southall. The by-election that followed the tragic death of Piara Khabra could not have happened in a more interesting place. It did not take me long to realise that this corner of West London was far from ordinary. The local McDonalds sells Halal burgers, while the cinema appeared to show only Bollywood films and the pub by the station proudly declares that it was the first pub in Britain to accept Rupees. The most striking thing though was not the shops but the people. They were with a striking degree of uniformity, well, not white. It became a running joke amongst campaigners that you could spot other activists because they were the only Caucasians you would ever see.
A short visit to Southall should be enough to make anyone greet the statement, ‘immigration has changed Britain dramatically,’ with a dismissive exclamation of: WELL DUHHH! That the inflow of millions of people into Britain has had a big impact on this country is really beyond dispute, yet this is one of the comments that has got Conservative parliamentary candidate, Nigel Hastilow into a spot of bother.
I raise this because Mr Hastilow’s sin was to suggest that what Enoch Powell said in his notorious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech was correct. This provides as good an opportunity as any other to test Powell’s predictions against what actually took place.
So was Powell right? In many important respects he was. But rather than vindicating his argument, that Powell got right a lot of things right serves only to demonstrate how fundamentally wrongheaded the case against immigration is.
An article in the Economist on racial conflict in Britain noted that: ‘In 1985, the MP Enoch Powell issued a prognostication of doom. By the end of the 20th century, he claimed, fully 8% of Britain's population would be black or brown-skinned, and a third of the residents of some cities would be non-white... Few took Powell's forecast seriously. He had been a familiar anti-immigrant bugbear since 1968, when he was exiled from the Conservative front bench for fulminating against “wide-grinning piccaninnies” and seeming to anticipate race war between blacks and whites. Powell's later prediction was almost spot on, though. At the time of the 2001 census, the ethnic minority population of Britain was, indeed, 8.1%. White Britons made up less than two-thirds of the populations of Leicester and Birmingham (and accounted for barely half of all children in those cities).’
What has not materialised are the rivers foaming with blood, the nations on funeral pyres and the other images of doom that Powell conjured up to support his case. Ever the sceptical conservative, he underestimated the basic decency of the British people. Rather than engaging in racial warfare, we have come not only to tolerate but to value these new Britains. While racial violence does exist, it is without a doubt the exception rather than the rule.
To boil this all down to a sentence, Powell was right that vast numbers of people would come to this small island but he wrong that this would lead to disaster. In other words, high levels of immigration have not and will not end in catastrophe.
This should put into perspective recent projected population figures that Powell's present day heirs have predicatably tried to use to portray us as on the road to ruin. Yes, we may see lots of inward migration but if immigration benefits Britain this is something to celebrate rather than fear.
Doomsayers, like Enoch Powell, will always be with us but when it comes to the questions that really matter, they are seldom right.