Fiona Simpson, Evening Standard, April 12, 2018
The BBC has come under fire over plans to broadcast Enoch Powell’s “racist” Rivers of Blood speech on Radio 4.
The broadcast marks the 50th anniversary of the politician’s controversial speech on immigration, widely considered one of the most inflammatory in modern history by a British politician.
On Saturday the speech will be broadcast in full for the first time on British radio.
Actor Ian McDirmid will read it out half a century after it was delivered in Birmingham days before a crucial stage of the 1968 Race Relations Bill.
The speech included observations on immigrants taken from Powell’s Wolverhampton constituents.
The 45 minute speech is widely believed to have incited racism against immigrants and led to Powell being dismissed from the Conservative Party. In it, Powell proposed a policy encouraging people who had come to the UK from abroad to return their country of origin.
It ended with a reference to a line in Virgil’s poem Aeneid when civil war in Italy is predicted using the phrase “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”.
Plans for the broadcast have been branded “appalling” and “repugnant”.
Labour peer Lord Andrew Adonis wrote on Twitter: “Now the BBC thinks there is a public service in broadcasting Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech, what next? Oswald Mosley’s memoirs? Genghis Khan’s views on peacemaking?”
He added: “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.”
SNP politician Dr Paul Monaghan said: “BBC decision to broadcast Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood speech after 50 years is unfortunate.”
Chris Applegate wrote: “The Rivers of Blood speech has never been read out on radio on full until this weekend. Sadly, nobody on @BBCRadio4 has worked out there might be a very good reason why their predecessors exercised that judgement.”
Mark Hebden added: “BBC will broadcast a reading of the Rivers of Blood speech this Saturday — 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s speech. I can’t imagine a more naked, squalid attempt to stir up controversy and division. Whoever commissioned it should be thoroughly ashamed at their irresponsibility.”
BBC Media Editor Amol Rajan defended the broadcast, saying it would be “it will up, and critiqued by voices from across the spectrum. Not just read out in a single go.”
“Though of course some will still object,” he added.
Lord Adonis has also written a letter to the head of Ofcom asking her to instruct the BBC not to broadcast Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech.
The Labour peer described the speech as “incendiary and racist”.
It reads: “Because of the time sensitive and urgent nature of the issue, I am writing directly to ask Ofcom to instruct the BBC to cancel its proposed broadcast on Saturday of Enoch Powell’s infamous 1968 speech predicting ‘rivers of blood’ and ‘the black man having the whip hand over the white man’ because of immigration.
“It seems extraordinary that one should have to make the argument in today’s Britain that Powell’s speech is an incitement to racial hatred and violence which should not be broadcast.
“If a contemporary politician made such a speech they would almost certainly be arrested and charged with serious offences.
“The BBC claims in its advance publicity (attached) that this is some kind of artistic enterprise. This argument is unsustainable, particularly in context of the BBC’s boast that the broadcast provides a unique opportunity to hear the speech in full.
“Only a short section of the speech was quoted on the night, but for this programme the full text is recreated’, it says.
“In other words, as a special tribute to the 50th anniversary of ‘rivers of blood’, the BBC is broadcasting the full text of the most incendiary racist speech of modern Britain that was not even broadcast at the time.”
“Obviously this matter will be raised in Parliament if Enoch Powell’s broadcast goes ahead.”
The speech will be broadcast on BBC Radio Four on Saturday at 8pm.
Powell died aged 95 in 1988.
A BBC spokesman 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.”