U.S. and World Politics

The Spirit of Enoch Powell Still Inhabits the Tory Party

By John Blackburn

It is often noted that new recruits to a movement or a religion demonstrate a greater enthusiasm for orthodoxy and ritual than those born into it. We are witnessing that today in Britain.

Three of the most senior posts in the Conservative British government, the Prime Minister (Rushi Sunak), the Home Secretary (Suella Braverman) and the Foreign Secretary (James Cleverly) are now held by people of color and the children of immigrants.

Historically the Conservative (Tory) Party membership has demonstrated an entrenched reactionary English nationalist ideology that is racist, and which today manifests as virulent anti-immigration and anti-refugees, especially when their skin is dark.

In the 1960s this outlook was given its most eloquent spokesperson in the form of Enoch Powell, Tory MP, and former cabinet minister. In the 1950s he had condemned racism among his fellow Tory MPs. As the minister of health in 1961 he introduced the birth control pill for women through the NHS (National Health Service). But by the mid ’60s he had become the reactionary champion of anti-immigration sentiments, racism and a vociferous opponent of the Race Relations Act which would outlaw discrimination on race in employment and housing. Powell was prompted by the expected influx of thousands of Asians who held British passports and were being expelled by Adi Amin from the former British colony of Uganda. In April 1968 Powell gave his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in Birmingham which predicted race wars in Britain by the end of the 20th century if the immigration of colored people continued into Britain. Even the conservative Times condemned Powell’s speech which prompted Edward Heath the leader of the Tories to sack him as a shadow minister which was opposed by Margaret Thatcher who was an ambitious junior MP then.

In the dismal days that followed, widespread support for Powell came from sections of the working class. One thousand dockers marched to Parliament to protest Powell’s sacking while he received over 100,000 letters of support. Had Powell been able to stand for the Tory party leadership it is sure that he would have won.

Every immigrant has known since then that at its heart the Tory Party, the majority of rank-and-file members, are racist and profoundly anti-immigrant. As a result, the majority of immigrants and their families have been Labour voters, which can have a decisive effect on election results in many parts of the country. In the 1980s Labour began to adopt more Black, Asian, women and even some who were openly gay as candidates in local and Parliamentary elections. Labour presented itself, in the Thatcher years of the 1980s, as the party that embraced diversity, multiculturalism and where all were welcome irrespective of color or sexuality. This was while Prime Minister Thatcher, a not so covert supporter of South African apartheid and a homophobe, was railing against the un-British influences on our pure culture and the need to “…return to Victorian family values.” Every informed person of color in Britain knew then that Thatcher and her party were racist to the core and that it was no place for them.

This was one face of Thatcherism, at the same time she was implementing the neoliberal economic philosophy of selling off state assets, reducing spending on social welfare while giving greater tax breaks to the rich—the strategy which is still at the heart of Tory economic policy. In the general election of 1997 Tony Blair had projected the diversity of the Labour Party and won a landslide victory when for the first time, a number of MPs of color were given senior positions in British government.

David Cameron realized that if the Tories were to get back into power, they would have to change their public image of a stale, reactionary, middle class, and racist party to one that reflected the diversity of society. He projected the Tory party as eco-friendly, more welcoming to women and the minorities that had been excluded before. The party was still run by the same elitist clique many of whom, including Boris Johnson, were old Etonian school chums of Cameron. (It is reputed that when Johnson saw the list of 60 women candidates that Cameron was promoting that he thought it was a “to do” list.)

Of course, since the ’60s from having very little and being strangers, many immigrant families have prospered, and their children have received education that has opened up a wider range of work opportunities. For many who had acquired a middle-class standard of living the Tory party was now seen as welcoming and willing to address many of their concerns.

The selection of Boris Johnson as leader of the Tories should have alerted all to the reality of the Tory party attitudes. Like Powell before him, he gave voice to the racist and reactionary views of the mass of Tory party members. He was elected leader, then Prime Minister, in 1997 despite his crass opinions and ill behavior being legendary. Johnson’s bluster about getting Brexit done and the tsunami of anti-Jeremy Corbyn, (the Labour Party’s leader), propaganda in the British media secured him victory with a large majority.

Johnson’s dishonesty, corruption, and contempt for all of the norms of accepted political behavior in the UK, eventually caused his downfall. Despite this, up to the end most of the non-white members of the Tory government continued to publicly support him. The instruction to all of his cabinet to repeat in public and in the mass media a known lie was a bridge too far for even Rishi Sunak who would eventually succeed him.

That was not before Liz Truss beat him two-to-one in a vote of rank-and-file Tory party members for the leadership and thus Premiership.

That spell of uber-Thatcherism lasted a mere 47 days. The crisis was the response to a “non-budget” of public spending and tax cuts by the Chancellor Kwesi Kwarteng, another child of immigrants, an act of economic insanity that almost brought the country to its knees. This has cost at least £60 billion provoking a massive rise in interest rates which will affect millions of households for years to come. Though thrown out, Truss still maintains that she and Kwarteng were right and were let down by gutless bankers and bureaucrats.

Suella Braverman, Priti Patel (whose family were Ugandan Asians that Enoch Powell would have stopped coming to the UK), Kwesi Kwarteng, and many others including Rich Sunak have all been selected, groomed, and promoted by right wing think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute while they in return are obedient to the strategy of their mentors. There is no place for history, principles, or morality in their world outlook. Their color gives a veneer of inclusion and anti-racism to the Tory party, but they will be sacrificed by the real Tory establishment if necessary.

In recent years there has been a flow of asylum seekers trying to get to Britain from France sailing in small boats and dinghies. There have been many drownings, but the harsh anti-asylum seeker attitude of successive Tory governments is unrelenting. Beginning with Home Secretary, Priti Patel, continuing with her replacement, Suella Braverman, there has been an unrelenting campaign with the backing of the right-wing media, giving voice to the most reactionary Tory views and vilifying the asylum seekers. Sunak has responded by introducing a bill to parliament which “Will stop the boats,” but has been condemned across the board as a piece of legislation akin to the Nazis of the 1930s.

While leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer’s, response has been negligible, the retired footballer and TV pundit Gary Lineker condemned the policy on Twitter. When he refused to apologize or recant, he was suspended by the BBC on grounds that he had breached the corporation’s impartiality rules. When other football presenters backed Lineker’s right to express his views and refused to replace him, matches went ahead on TV without commentary or analysis. That solidarity forced the BBC hierarchy to reinstate Lineker.

It is clear that the spirit of Enoch Powell still permeates the Tory party. Tory MPs of color are showing that principles matter for nothing and have not the slightest empathy for those who will risk all to come here. Aware that they are not yet fully accepted by the Tory establishment they try by their actions as enthusiastic converts to demonstrate their commitment and loyalty. In relation to the small boat issue, Sunak and Braverman and the like have abandoned any trace of humanity in their zeal for acceptance and to further their political careers.