Wales politics

Rivers of Blood speech echoes during EU referendum, says Hain

Enoch Powell
Image caption Enoch Powell died in 1998 aged 85

Echoes of Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" anti-immigration speech 50 years ago were heard in Wales during the EU referendum, a Labour peer has said.

Ex-Neath MP Peter Hain said he heard phrases such as people becoming "strangers in their own country" in the south Wales valleys before the vote.

Powell was sacked from Edward Heath's shadow cabinet for the speech in 1968.

Lord Hain was talking to BBC Radio Wales on the anniversary of the address this week.

Powell had been speaking to Conservative Party members in Birmingham, before the second reading of the Race Relations Bill.

The legislation made it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people because of their ethnic background.

Powell referred to comments he said he had heard from his constituents in Wolverhampton, including that "in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man".

He ended with a quote from Virgil's poem about Rome the Aeneid, predicting civil war with "the River Tiber foaming with much blood".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Hain was a youth activist at the time of the speech

Lord Hain, a former Welsh secretary and leading anti-apartheid campaigner, told the Sunday Supplement programme the speech was "clearly racist".

"What struck me re-reading it, and thinking back to how I felt at the time, was how in a way the ghost of Enoch Powell still stalks British politics," he said.

"Indeed in the Brexit campaign on the doorstep knocking on doors in the south Wales valleys, where I concentrated in the referendum because I knew that if we were to win in Wales we'd have to win in the valleys in the Labour heartlands, in the former coal mining areas.

"And it was as if echoes of Powell's speech were coming off the doorstep.

"He used this phrase 'we're becoming strangers in our own country' or 'people are becoming strangers in their own country' - it was that kind of sentiment coming off the doorstep.

"And I'm not saying that's all that Brexit was about but it really struck me that actually when I say his ghost still stalks British politics it has done over the decades - many of the same sentiments."

Sunday Supplement will be broadcast on BBC Radio Wales at 08:00 BST on 15 April and then available on the BBC iPlayer.

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