The British public proved Enoch Powell wrong – but that is a low bar to jump


Children waving flags

I grew up confident enough to joke at Enoch Powell. But the next generation expects more.

It seems curious now to think that Enoch Powell’s most fervent wish boiled down to the idea that I should never have been born. It would be hard not to take that speech at least a little personally.

Powell’s Birmingham warning of “Rivers of Blood’, given 50 years ago this month, clearly didn’t quite have the impact in India that he would have liked. For just a fortnight later on the Whitsun bank holiday my Dad, having trained as a doctor in India, got on a plane to Heathrow and soon landed a job with the NHS.

My grandfather, also named Sunder, was to come to England with his own repatriation offer – like Enoch, he wanted his son to return to India – but it was too late. In a Surrey hospital, my dad had met my mum, a nurse from County Cork in Ireland, and so chose to settle and make his life here.

So I was born, British, in a Doncaster hospital on a bright April day in 1974. An everyday story of family celebration, familiar in NHS wards up and down the country. But not for Enoch. I was just one more stick on the funeral pyre, a matter of national suicide for his very idea of Britain.

His 1968 speech could not see in the British-born children of migrants any positive potential for the solution of integration but only a deep, ultimately irreconcilable tragedy.

“Sometimes people point to the increasing proportion of immigrant offspring born in this country as if the fact contained within itself the ultimate solution. The truth is the opposite. The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still.”

This was surely the biggest thing of all that Enoch got wrong. He was much too pessimistic about Britain. He showed remarkably little confidence in the attraction that British culture and identity might have for those who sought to contribute to the next chapter of its long history.

Powell argued with fierce urgency in 1968 that, within 15 years, when half of the Commonwealth-descended population would be British-born, it would be far too late. On this, at least, Enoch was right. My birth that morning – along with another million moments like it, and the contact they would create in the classrooms of Britain a few years later – were a foundational reason why he was losing his biggest argument irrevocably.

Even 50 years on, speak to the first generation of Asian and West Indian Commonwealth migrants about Enoch and you will understand the visceral sense of fear sparked by that speech – particularly once it had been translated into the street argot of “send them back” by those much less inclined to make their points in classical Latin. Twenty years later, it never felt …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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