Enoch was right (wing)

One of the good things about having a single issue blog like this one is that I can ignore certain fusses if I want to tht aren't about right wing press nonsense. I decided to steer clear of the Nigel Hastilow stuff because, frankly, I could not be arsed to read another generic nonsense rant of the sort I wade through all the time to come up with material here.

But given my most recent postings about the IPPR study that allegedly called for a downgrade or a ban on Christmas, and my insistence that we look at the words the report actually said, I figured I should read Hastilow's article to see what I thought before making my mind up about it. Was he racist? Should he have got in trouble?

There is another question that it's important to answer first, which is whather or not Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech was racist. Of course it was. Daniel Finklestien nails it right on the head when he points out that Powell said, 'I am going to allow just one of those hundreds of people to speak for me,' before telling a story about how black people take over streets, can't speak English but know the word 'racialist', break people's windows and push shit through letterboxes. He characterises these experiences as happening to hundreds of people. And he explicitly states that the woman telling the story is speaking for him. He is not merely reporting what someone else has said.

Now, one of the things defenders of those accused of racism often do is downplay what has actually been said or done and make it sound as though the accusation is based on something far milder than it actually is. A bit like how my teenage cousin when I was a kid would get in trouble and protest, 'but I only said...' when everyone present knew full well that she had said that and more besides. 'It's not racist to talk about immigration' said the old tory slogan, but who ever said it was? Accusations of racism would normally be said about specific things people say when talking about immigration.

Defenders of Powell often downplay the contents of the speech in the same way. Simon Heffer does this in his defence of Hastilow and Powell, when he says:
Oh, and he foresaw correctly that there would be terrible tensions if immigration were allowed to carry on unchecked in that famous speech - called, by a phrase he never uttered, the "Rivers of Blood" speech - in April 1968. It is for reminding the public that what Powell predicted has come to pass that Mr Hastilow is now an ex-candidate.
which politely skims over the fact that the form Powell's prediction of terrible tensions would take included shit posting and window busting and terrorising poor, racist little old ladies.

Heffer does the same trick earlier in his article, saying:
One Tory MP, Bernard Jenkin, has already been removed from his position in the party simply for warning an Asian candidate that she might encounter racism.

Another, Patrick Mercer, was booted off the front bench for retailing the fact that some NCOs in our Armed Forces have racist attitudes towards black people.
Both are bland mischaracterisations. Jenkin was sacked for telling an Asian candidate that she would not be elected because she wasn't a white middle class male. Patrick Mercer didn't just point out that some NCOs have racist attitudes. He said that black soldiers are often 'idle and useless' but covered that up with accusations of racism and far from just pointing out that some NCOs are racist, he implied that black soldiers shouldn't be offended by that racism because it was part of the normal behaviour in the army.

Iain Dale uses the same tactic over at Pickled Politics, where Sunny has argued that tories like him don't get racism if they don't see anything wrong with saying Powell's racist speech was right. In his comments box protest, this becomes and accusation of racism just for discussing Hastilow's comments.

It's this exact trick that Hastilow uses in the most important passage in his article:
When you ask most people in the Black Country what the single biggest problem facing the country is, most people say immigration. Many insist: “Enoch Powell was right”.

Enoch, once MP for Wolverhampton South West, was sacked from the Conservative front bench and marginalised politically for his 1968 “rivers of blood” speech warning that uncontrolled immigration would change our country irrevocably.

He was right. It has changed dramatically. But his speech was political suicide. Enoch’s successors in Parliament are desperate to avoid ever mentioning the issue.

It’s too controversial and far too dangerous. Nobody wants to be labelled a racist. Immigration is the issue that dare not speak its name in public.
Powell's speech didn't just argue that immigration would change the country irrevocably. He specified how it would change by using examples - supposedly said to him by constituents - of black people pushing shit through letterboxes and saying, "In this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man," and predicting horrific violence.

I's these elements that are the most famous - or infamous - aspects of Powell's speech. Ask anyone what the 'Rivers of Blood' speech is about and its these things they'll think of. Almost nobody would characterise it as merely warning that immigration would change the country. If you want to argue something as bland and self-evident as the fact that immigration has changed the country, Powell's speech is not the thing to refer to since it includes specific nasty examples of how immigration would change the country. If I wanted to use an example of a story about young people and their adventures in the forest, I wouldn't choose the Evil Dead.

The rest of the article is takn up with references to the speech. The opening is clearly a mirror of Powell's references to constituents, and what follows are Hastilow's summary of the problems of immigration, parroting the useless, self-contradictory crap spewed by the tabloids every other bloody day. None of those comments are in themselves racist or deserve sacking.

But using such a loaded phrase as 'Enoch was right', which he does in his own language, isn't excusable without pretty big qualifiers. The inclusion of the words about immigration changing Britain don't cut it. By saying the speech is about immigration changing Britain without making any qualifiers, Hastilow is accepting everything else in the speech.

That's what was wrong.


Chris said...

I didn't manage to follow the whole Hastilow thing so thank you for writing it up.

I just want to clarify..

In 1985 Enoch Powell suggested that black men would be beating up white men and that all immigrants were thugs, as well as predicting there would be 5 - 7 million immigrants by the year 2000.

In 2007, Nigel Hastilow made a few points about immigration, which was fine, but then said "Enoch was right" which suggested that he agrees with Enoch's stereotype of immigrants?


septicisle said...

No, Hastilow didn't even have the guts to say Enoch was right. He wrote that "many", say "Enoch was right", referring to those in the Black Country. Hastilow's article wasn't racist, it was that he hid behind various other people for his most offensive accusations and allegations instead of having the courage to come out with them himself. What he quite clearly was trying to do was see what he could get away with - dog whistle politics, and as it turned out, he didn't get away with it. I'd rather he'd have stayed and then seen how his future prospective constituents reacted at the ballot box.

Here is Hastilow's article in full incidentally:

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Cheers Septicisle.

And to add to that - the problem is that he said the specific speech in which Enoch Powell said those things was right.