Broadcast of Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood speech defended by BBC - The Times

Enoch Powell was sacked as shadow defence secretary after his speech


The BBC has been criticised for planning to air a reading of Enoch Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood” speech to mark its 50th anniversary.

The Radio 4 broadcast on Saturday is the first time that the controversial speech will have been heard in full on British radio.

Lord Adonis, the Labour peer, called for the broadcast to be scrapped and wrote on Twitter yesterday that the anti-immigration speech was “the worst incitement to racial violence by a public figure in modern Britain”.

Amol Rajan, the BBC’s media editor, will present the broadcast on Radio 4 on Saturday night. He said that the speech would be broken up and critiqued throughout the programme, part of the Archive on 4series, which reflects in detail on historical events.

However, Shirin Hirsch, a University of Wolverhampton academic, said that she now viewed her participation as a mistake and tweeted that she was “disgusted by the way the BBC are promoting this show”.

Only a short section of Powell’s 45-minute monologue to Conservative Party members in Birmingham, made a few days before the second reading of the 1968 race relations bill, was recorded.

Ian McDiarmid, the Scottish actor, will read the full text for the broadcast. He played the politician in a theatre show that included the speech in Edinburgh last year. Powell called for a reduction in the number of arrivals and a policy to encourage those already in the UK to return to their country of origin.

The speech ended with a reference to a moment in Virgil’s Aeneid when a prophetess predicts civil war in Italy with “the river Tiber foaming with much blood”.

The speech led to Powell being sacked as shadow defence secretary by the Conservative Party’s leader, Edward Heath. Powell left the party but returned to the House of Commons in October 1974 as the Ulster Unionist MP for South Down. He died in 1998 at the age of 85.

The BBC said: “This is a rigorous journalistic analysis of a historical political speech. It’s not an endorsement of the controversial views and people should wait to hear the programme before they judge it.”

A spokeswoman for Ofcom said: “Ofcom’s powers, granted by parliament, are as a post-broadcast regulator. This means that we wouldn’t check or approve any broadcaster’s editorial content before transmission.”

Anti-racism campaigners and MPs will mark the 50th anniversary next Friday by holding an event to celebrate the multiculturalism of Birmingham. The speakers will include Preet Kaur Gill, the Labour MP for Edgbaston, and Brendon Batson, who played football for West Bromwich Albion.

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