Select Page

The year 2018 holds the dubious honour of marking the fiftieth anniversary of the speech made by Enoch Powell that later became known as the “Rivers of Blood” speech. The British MP addressed a Birmingham Conservative Party meeting on the 20th of April 1968, causing controversy with a speech that strongly criticised immigration and inflamed racial hatred and prejudice across the UK.


As much support as Powell’s speech engendered, the opposition to his ideas was equally as strong, with many prominent individuals and organisations speaking out against Powell and the ideas he propagated. Fiyaz Mughal OBE, an individual who has worked tirelessly throughout his life to combat hate crimes and create social cohesion, is just one of many people that have spoken out against the intolerance that Powell’s speech provoked.

The Times newspaper declared that the speech was evil, denouncing Powell as the first politician since the end of the Second World War to make a direct appeal to the baser instincts of hatred and racial prejudice among the public. MP for Labour Tony Benn compared the after-effects of the speech to those that allowed for the rise of Nazism and the existence of concentration camps less than 25 years earlier.

Rivers of Blood

The speech made by Powell was not originally called “Rivers of Blood” and the term itself was not specifically used by the MP. The association and subsequent coining of the expression refers to Powell’s comparison of events to those described in Virgil’s Aeneid, in which the writer imagines a future where the River Tiber foams with blood. Powell himself referred to the speech throughout the rest of his career as the “Birmingham Speech”. Powell was dismissed by Prime Minister Edward Heath from the Shadow Cabinet following this speech due to the potential for harm to race relations and the inflammatory nature of Powell’s words.

Fifty Years On

Fifty years after Enoch Powell made his speech, the UK is seeing a spike in hate crimes once again. Fiyaz Mughal states that one of the biggest factors affecting the rise in hate crime is the prominence of social media, which provides a platform for far-right individuals to come together and fan the fires of hate. Far right groups promoting ideas of intolerance and hatred are appearing across the world, utilising technology to expand on racist ideas and generate a culture of fear, particularly of Muslim terrorist attacks after 9/11. Fiyaz Mughal runs an anti-Muslim hate crime monitoring service in the UK called Tell MAMA.