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West Midlands attitudes to race have moved on since Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech survey has found

West Midlands attitudes to race have moved on since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech survey has found

The people of the West Midlands have moved on from the era of Enoch Powell a new survey to mark 50 years since his notorious Rivers of Blood speech has found.

And attitudes have shifted most among young people with 90 per cent saying they would be comfortable with their child marrying someone of a different race.

Thousands of people across the UK were polled for the report called Many Rivers Crossed which looked at attitudes to race relations half a century on from the former Wolverhampton MP’s landmark speech at Birmingham’s Midland Hotel in which he warned of the perils of mass immigration.

Whlie there may be concerns about views in other parts of the country, the West Midlands, which has seen several waves of immigration is more positive about the impact.

Survation researchers for the thinktank British Future, carried out an opinion poll and held more in-depth interviews with people in Wolverhampton, Dudley and Erdington to gauge the mood.

Their findings included:

  • Eight in ten people in the West Midlands (79 per cent) would now be comfortable with their child or grandchild marrying someone of another race, rising to 90 per cent of those aged 18-24.
  • A further 73 per cent would be comfortable if their child married someone of a different faith.
  • Asked with which politician they associate ‘Rivers of Blood’, just 18 per cent of those aged 18-24 chose Enoch Powell, and only 36 per cent of 35-44 year olds.


Enoch Powell
  • Overall, 50 per cent of people in the West Midlands correctly associated ‘Rivers of Blood’ with Powell, rising to 71 per cent of over-65s.
  • No-one under 30 could recognise Powell in a photograph and only three in ten over all. “He looks like someone off Peaky Blinders,” one participant said.
  • The research finds that 81 per cent of people in the West Midlands would be comfortable with a Prime Minister of a different ethnicity, although only 71 per cent would be comfortable with a Muslim PM.
  • More than 90 per cent are at ease with doctors, teachers, police and work colleagues from another ethnic background.
  • 72 per cent of people in the region say that we don’t really notice mixed-race couples any more when we see them in the street.

However researchers also found that racism and prejudice, while confined to a minority, are still prevalent as 15 per cent of ethnic minorities had experienced racial, ethnic or religious-based prejudices directed at them on social media such as Facebook or Twitter; a quarter had encountered prejudice in the workplace; and 35 per cent had experienced it in the street or on public transport.

The majority of those surveyed across the West Midlands agree, however, that we are less prejudiced today than in 1968, including two-thirds of over 65s who are old enough to remember what it was like in the aftermath of Powell’s speech.



Enoch Powell delivering a speech.
Enoch Powell delivering a speech.

While attitudes to Britain’s Muslim citizens remain broadly positive, they still lag behind those towards other minorities. Seven in ten people (70 per cent) in the region would be comfortable with their child marrying someone of the Muslim faith.

The former Wolverhampton MPs speech is back in the news on this anniversary. A keynote speech by former West Bromwich Albion star Brendon Batson at the Midland Hotel, on Wednesday, April 20 – 50 years to the day since the Rivers of Blood speech – will show how far society has come.

And the BBC has courted controversy by broadcasting a recreation of the speech .

The findings of the survey have been welcomed, particularly here in the West Midlands – especially the shifting attitudes between age groups.

British Future Director Sunder Katwala said: “The West Midlands has moved on from ‘Rivers of Blood’. Today, Enoch Powell’s name means little to those who have grown up in a society where racial mixing is the norm.

“Older generations remember Enoch and the storm he caused here and across Britain. Some have found the pace of change too much since 1968 and may still agree with what he said. But there’s also a pride in their kids and grandchildren growing up without the prejudices of the 60s and 70s.

“While most people recognize that Britain is less prejudiced than in Powell’s day, racism and prejudice haven’t gone away. Our researchers heard stories of racial and anti-Muslim prejudice, some of it directed at young children. We have come a long way but there is still much further to go.”

Dudley Labour MP Ian Austin said: “The contrast between Enoch Powell’s terrible predictions and the reality of life in the West Midlands could not be more stark. People have come from all over the world, from different backgrounds and cultures to work together and build a better society and stronger communities for us all.

“Powell’s defenders say he was simply voicing concerns about immigration but it’s just not true. No one would have objected if he’d said immigration can put pressure on schools, housing or hospitals. There’s nothing racist about that. What Powell aimed to do was divide communities based on the colour of people’s skin.”



Ian Austin MP in the House of Commons
Ian Austin MP in the House of Commons

“Populist parties and politicians, Powell included, often claim to be speaking for the people, ‘saying what people are thinking but not allowed to say.’ The best response is to let people speak for themselves.”

Conservative Communities Secretary and Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid added: “Over the past 50 years, our country has undoubtedly become fairer and despite setbacks BAME communities are amongst the highest achieving in our schools, public life and the private sector. So we have made real progress. But not nearly enough.”

And former Wolverhampton Conservative MP Paul Uppal said: “Powell underestimated the ability of the British people – whatever their heritage – to come together in the realisation that culture isn’t static but always changing, modifying and evolving.”

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