The Corner

Another Anniversary

April 20 this year marks the 40th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s immigration speech in Britain. There followed a major battle in the never-ending war between elites and people:

The Gallup Organization took an opinion poll at the end of April and found that 74% agreed with what Powell had said in his speech; 15% disagreed. 69% felt [Tory leader Edward] Heath was wrong to sack Powell [from the shadow cabinet, the Tories then being in opposition] and 20% believed Heath was right. Before his speech Powell was favoured to replace Heath as Conservative leader by 1%, with Reginald Maudling favoured by 20%; after his speech 24% favoured Powell and 18% Maudling. 83% now felt immigration should be restricted (75% before the speech) and 65% favoured … anti-discrimination legislation.

It is of course unthinkable that any responsible government should accede to the wishes of 83% of its public. Powellite sentiments were brow-beaten out of the public square, though not without a long and hard-fought campaign of propaganda, brainwashing, and intimidation by British elites.

It is not generally known that Powell’s views on immigration were crystallized by a visit he had made — his first ever — to the U.S.A. a few months before. From Chapter 10 of Simon Heffer’s fine (though astonishingly hard to find) biography of Powell:

His increasingly apocaplyptic view of Britain’s failure to control immigration was then given its most profound boost. At the age of fifty-five he made his first visit to the United States, then in the midst of great civil rights tensions … [He] saw a country whose internal tensions, because of the race problem, could so easily be mirrored in Britain. America’s problems, stemming from the legacy of slavery, were in his view far less tractable than those in Britain needed to be, provided action was taken soon …

Here is another quote from Heffer’s biography, also following Powell’s U.S. jaunt.

At a shadow cabinet meeting at this time Powell, reporting on his visit to America, voiced his opinion that the Americans would be driven out of Vietnam without a victory. His authority for the statement had been none less than Robert Macnamara, the Secretary for Defense, who had “expressly admitted to me that he knew the Americans had no choice but to disengage.”

[Edward] Heath told Powell “angrily” in response that “you are absolutely mistaken. The Americans will stay in South-East Asia twenty or thirty years if necessary, and leave only when they have transformed the society and the economy of those countries.”

How fortunate the Tories were to have such a sapient and foresighted leader as Edward Heath!

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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