Magazine article The Spectator

The Real Trouble with Enoch

Magazine article The Spectator

The Real Trouble with Enoch

Article excerpt

THE trouble with your speech about Commonwealth immigrants, I told Enoch Powell over a friendly lunch we were taking together in the 1980s, is that from 1968 onwards it forced everyone in authority to make light of all the problems Commonwealth immigration was creating; indeed to pretend that there was no serious problem. He looked, I remember, unreasonably pleased at this accusation.

I was reminded of our conversation a few days ago when I heard Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, expressing anxiety over the development of faith-based schools. It meant, he said, that children who go to certain schools are white, and all the children that then go to another are black. `That is no way to build a solid foundation for a multiracial, multicultural society which we all believe in and we all continue to support:

Bill Morris is not the only person to think that our social policies are to blame for setting up separate racial communities in inner-city areas such as Bradford and Bolton, scenes of rioting early this summer. The flaw in such thinking is the assumption that there has been any social policy. From the 1960s onwards, we have sedulously avoided gathering facts by which social policies might be guided, or forming any policy that might stir resentment in one quarter or another.

Any figure, any uncomfortable fact or prediction that threatened to give the smallest credence to what Enoch Powell had said became unwelcome evidence. He had declared in effect - some thought iniquitously - that we were storing up future trouble for ourselves. Therefore to talk about prospective religious or cultural differences; to mention the danger of different races congregating in certain places, thereby paving the way to segregation, would be interpreted by some as supporting Powell's thesis. Better not to draw attention to such clouds on the horizon.

As one closely involved with the subject, I well understood Mr Heath's predicament. After the speech he made early in 1968, Powell ceased to be a member of Heath's shadow Cabinet. From the general election of 1970 onwards, he remained outside the pale of Heath's administration. How could Heath be expected to scan the sky for portents that some would suggest proved Powell right? How could a Labour government be expected to do such a thing? The ghost of Enoch Powell has haunted this right-of-entry issue for 30 years, and he haunts it still.

So the policy of successive governments has been simply one of dodging trouble; and today we see much the same thing happening with the intractable problem of asylum, where we are losing on two fronts. We are criticised by the European Union for behaving harshly towards asylum-seekers. At the same time, the manifest absence of any convincing policy for controlling the tide of those seeking entry here is provoking hostility towards allcomers, whether they are genuine asylumseekers or economic migrants.

That is something which, after much hesitation and muddle, we did eventually get right in respect of Commonwealth immigration. As chairman (1970-74) or deputy chairman (1967-70) of the parliamentary select committee on race relations and immigration, I held to the proposition that effective control of entry was an absolute condition of securing reasonably good race relations. The committee, which included several of Labour's left-wingers, accepted that.

The first attempt to control entry, the 1962 Act, was a disaster - largely because Labour under Hugh Gaitskell's leadership shot it to pieces. On taking office in 1964, Labour perceived that Commonwealth immigration control had become a ship without a rudder and was in the state that our asylum policy is in today. Harold Wilson's government saw the need to establish some sort of grip, and gradually asserted the controls against which they had fought like tigers in 1962 and 1963.

The point to grasp about our policy in this field, now troubling people such as Bill Morris, is that it has been almost entirely negative. …

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