The BBC has come under fire after announcing plans to broadcast a recording of Enoch Powell’s controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in full.
Star Wars actor Ian McDiarmid, who played the evil Emperor in the films, will recreate the speech for a BBC Radio 4 special to mark the 50th anniversary of Powell’s warning about the effects of immigration.
Powell, originally from Birmingham and a Wolverhampton MP at the time, spoke at what is now the MacDonald Burlington Hotel in Birmingham’s New Street, in April 1968.
BBC presenter Amol Rajan publicised the show in Twitter, saying: “On Saturday, for 1st time EVER, Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech will be read in full on UK radio (by actor Ian McDiarmid).”
One person, with the Twitter account @shivamLM, responded: “Why are you giving a platform to a racist?”
Another, @GarySpedding, said: “Please keep this filth from our airwaves.”
Labour politician Lord Adonis, a member of the House of Lords, said: “Powell’s 1968 speech – ‘I see the River Tiber foaming with much blood; in 15 years time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man’ – is the worst incitement to racial violence by a public figure in modern Britain.
“The BBC should not be broadcasting it on Saturday.”
Mr Rajan then explained in a Twitter post: “Naively, I assumed people would click on the link. So let me clarify, for Andrew Adonis and others, that the speech is broken up, and critiqued by voices from across the spectrum.
“Not just read out in a single go. Though of course some will still object.”
A BBC Spokesperson said: “Many people know of this controversial speech but few have heard it beyond soundbites.
“Radio 4’s well established programme Archive on 4 reflects in detail on historical events and, in order to assess the speech fully and its impact on the immigration debate, it will be analysed by a wide range of contributors including many anti-racism campaigners.”
Mr McDiarmid has previously portayed Powell in a stage play, called What Shadows.
The 50th anniversary of the speech has sparked a fierce debate over Enoch Powell’s place in history and whether it should be celebrated.
Enoch Powell was a Brummie, born in Stechford and educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, but he was MP for Wolverhampton South West when the speech was delivered.
Black Country MP Ian Austin has organised a “rally against racism” to take place on Thursday April 19 at the MacDonald Burlington Hotel.
Speakers include Eleanor Smith MP, who represents Powell’s former seat in Wolverhampton, Shabana Mahmood MP, Preet Gil MP, Neena Gill CBE MEP and Ravi Subramanian, Unison’s Regional Secretary.
The aim is to discuss how Powell’s prophecies of doom have not come true. People who want to attend can sign up here .
An event on April 20 at the hotel has also been organised by the TUC. Ex-West Brom player, and member of the famous ‘Three Degrees’ Brendon Batson will address this event.
Also addressing the event will be Birmingham City Council leader, Ian Ward, Shabana Mahmood MP and Preet Gill MP. Roger McKenzie, UNISON’s Assistant General Secretary and originally from the West Midlands will also make a speech.
What did Enoch Powell say?
Mr Powell delivered the speech on April 20 1968 in what was then called the Midland Hotel, in New Street.
The most famous line refers to “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”. This a quote from an epic poem written in ancient Rome, in which the blood is an omen of conflict to come.
Some of Mr Powell’s critics say he was suggesting there would be blood and violence on the streets of Britain, but he didn’t say that directly.
He argued against allowing significant immigration from non-white countries, saying that it posed a “national danger”.
Some people will find parts of the speech deeply offensive.
Mr Powell claimed that one constituent, an “ordinary working man”, had told him: “I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”
And he endorsed the comment, saying: “Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.”
Mr Powell also told the story of a pensioner who he said was the only white person left on her street. He said: “She is becoming afraid to go out. Windows are broken. She finds excreta pushed through her letter box.
“When she goes to the shops, she is followed by children, charming, wide-grinning piccaninnies. They cannot speak English, but one word they know. ‘Racialist,’ they chant.”
MP Ian Austin (Lab Dudley North) said: “This was a shameful speech that caused great division, presented a terrible image of the Black Country and even resulted in people being attacked.
“Powell divided communities based on the colour of people’s skin, he wanted immigrants to leave the country and predicted race wars and blood on the streets.
“People from all over the world have made a huge contribution to community life, to our NHS and other public services and, by setting up businesses and creating jobs, our economy too so I’m inviting speakers from across the country and people from around the region to join me as we celebrate all the ways Britain has got better over the last 50 years.”