Page 4, 20th June 1969

20th June 1969
Page 4
Page 4, 20th June 1969 — Why Enoch Powell is wrong

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Locations: Wolverhampton, York


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Why Enoch Powell is wrong

By Norman St. John Stevas

ONCE again Mr. Enoch Powell has made a major speech on race relations in Britain, this time in his own constituency of Wolverhampton, and once again the controversy has been stoked up on this thorny subject.

Mr. Powell reproached Mr. Heath for being incomprehending "of the very magnitude of the danger itself," an accusation which is based on a false premise and which is totally unjustified if it is taken to mean that Mr. Heath is indifferent to the question of race relations or unaware of the complex problems they pose for Britain.

We may be thankful that Mr. Heath does not keep talking about the issue since endless public controversy only retards the work of those who are devoting their lives to creating good relations between .British citizens of different race.

I learned this during my first year on the parliamentary race relations commission, as we travelled around the country, visiting incidentally Wolverhampton amongst other places. I was told by one of Mr. Powell's constituents that after his Birmingham speech she was involved in a particularly distasteful racial incident of a type which she had never experienced before.

Mr. Heath's policy is an eminently sensible and sane one: it combines strict control of entry into the country and tight immigration laws with positive policies to ensure that all immigrants enjoy their full constitutional and social rights. He has given consistent encouragement to those who are actually working in the field of race relations and (unlike Mr. Powell) when he has spoken in public on the issue. which he has done at York and again at Walsall. he has been careful to use rational not emotional words.

Now Mr. Enoch Powell has an obvious right to speak about race relations in any way he pleases provided he does not break the law. but the way in which he exercises that right is open to criticism. My first criticism of his approach is that he uses words in such a way as to stir up feelings against coloured immigrants.

There is undoubtedly present a certain amount of fear and dislike of the immigrants simply because they are different from ourselves: these fears can be exploited by demagogic orat ory or they can be rationally allayed and countered by understanding and charity. Mr. Powell has chosen the first rather than the second approach : the bloodcurdling imagery has been toned down since the Birmingham speech but traces of it are still there.

My other criticism of Mr. Powell's approach is his assumption that the presence of a coloured minority in Britain constitutes a "danger." This was the word he used in reference to Mr. Heath who was reproached for being oblivious of this "danger": and it occurs later in Mr. Powell's speech when he talks about the coloured population of Britain constituting "a dark and ever more menacing shadow."

But how are they threatening us or menacing us? Mr. Powell never specifies: in deed he could not : the coloured immigrants are on the whole law abiding decent men and women who are making a special contribution to the maintenance of our public services such as transport and preserving our social services by working in hospitals and nursing homes.

They are a "menace" then for one reason only : because they are black and we are white. That is why Dr. Huddleston. the Bishop of Stepney, rightly characterised Mr. Powell's speech as evil. It certainly is that in the Christian sense, because it rests on the false assumption that the differences between races are so great that they cannot be bridged either by the fatherhood of God or the brotherhood of man.

Of course if immigrants of any nation were coming to Britain in such numbers that they were placing an intolerable strain on the social fabric they could with some justice be described as a menace, but this is not happening and let us look at the figures.

The number of voucher holders who came to Britain from the coloured Commonwealth in 1966 numbered 5.141: in 1967 they were 4,716: in 1968 they were 4,634. This is a tiny trickle compared with the number of non-coloured immigrants who enter Britain every year.

If one looks at dependants entering Britain the number is higher: 39.130 in 1966. 50.083 in 1967 and 46,807 in 1968. What should be remembered about these figures is that they represent a backlog of dependants which date back. to the years before tighter control was introduced in 1965.

The maximum number of dependants who could arrive here if every dependant of those who had settled here by 1967 came is just over a quarter of a million. but they are unlikely all to come. When one considers that the annual birthrate in Britain is 800.000 a year it is absurd to pretend that an annual intake of about 50.000 dependants over five years constitutes a menace to anyone.

Mr. Powell can also he faulted for pandering to the belief that the problem presented by race can somehow. be exorcised away. Hence his stress on repatriation. Even if some immigrants here were hounded out of the country and good race relations undermined by strident policies of "voluntary" repatriation the problem would not be brought to an end, it would be made worse. Mr. Powell's approach claims to be realistic but in fact is quite the opposite. The only realistic approach to the problem is that being pursued by the present Government and backed by the Opposition, but it needs to be supplemented by voluntary work on the part of all the Churches.

The racial problem is a challenge to the Christian conscience because it faces us squarely with the issue— are our values those of God who loves all his children equally or are they the values of society and the world which discriminates between those children?

Every one of us has to make a personal choice and act upon it.

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