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Rivers of Blood speechBelow follows some articles concerning UK postwar immigration problems in the sixties and seventies.
Transcript of Rivers of Blood Speech
Enoch was right
1969-1979 - The National Front
The Rivers of Blood speech was a controversial speech about immigration. It was made on April 20, 1968 by the British politician Enoch Powell.
The speech took place at the annual meeting of the West Midlands Conservative Political Centre in Birmingham, in the Midland Hotel. In a small room after a lunch, Powell warned his audience of what he believed would be the consequences of continued immigration to Britain from the Commonwealth.
He began with philosophical pronouncements:
"It is the supreme function of statesmanship to provide against preventable evils."He concluded with these words, referring to the Race Relations Bill then coming before Parliament:
Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided.
As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’.
That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century.
Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.
The name given subsequently to the speech arose from its allusion to Virgil's line from the Aeneid 6, 1.86 (Powell had an academic background as a Classicist) about the Tiber foaming with blood: "Et Thybrim multo spumantem sanguine cerno."
The next day, the Leader of the Opposition Edward Heath sacked Powell from his Shadow Cabinet. Powell hadn't notified Conservative Central Office of his intentions, and this was expounded as one reason for his dismissal. Powell never held another senior political post.
The speech was followed by strikes, in particular in London's docklands, both in support and in opposition. Powell gained considerable support from the public, receiving over 43,000 letters and 700 telegrams, which overloaded Wolverhampton's postal system. Only 4 telegrams and 800 letters expressed a form of hostility to him or his message.
Powell was supported by MPs such as Sir Gerald Nabarro. Some supportive commentators attributed the surprise 1970 election victory by Edward Heath to the swing in Powell's West Midlands heartland, while other more hostile commentators have said that this speech alienated many immigrants from the Conservative Party.
Following the Brixton, Toxteth and Handsworth riots in the 1980s, Powell claimed that his 'rivers of blood' prediction had come true.
The speech remains well-known and controversial in Britain today, see Enoch was right.
'Rivers of Blood' is also a song by the British nationalist skinhead band Brutal Attack, from their 1985 `Stronger Than Before' album.
Here is the full text of Enoch Powell's famous speech to the Annual General Meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre, Birmingham, England, April 20, 1968.The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils. In seeking to do so, it encounters obstacles which are deeply rooted in human nature. One is that by the very order of things such evils are not demonstrable until they have occurred: At each stage in their onset there is room for doubt and for dispute whether they be real or imaginary. By the same token, they attract little attention in comparison with current troubles, which are both indisputable and pressing: whence the besetting temptation of all politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future.
Above all, people are disposed to mistake predicting troubles for causing troubles and even for desiring troubles: 'if only', they love to think, 'if only people wouldn't talk about it, it probably wouldn't happen'. Perhaps this habit goes back to the primitive belief that the word and the thing, the name and the object, are identical. At all events, the discussion of future grave but, with effort now, avoidable evils is the most unpopular and at the same time the most necessary occupation for the politician. Those who knowingly shirk it, deserve, and not infrequently receive, the curses of those who come after.
A week or two ago I fell into conversation with a constituent, a middle-aged, quite ordinary working man employed in one of our nationalized industries. After a sentence or two about the weather, he suddenly said: 'If I had the money to go, I wouldn't stay in this country.' I made some deprecatory reply, to the effect that even this Government wouldn't last for ever; but he took no notice, and continued: 'I have three children, all of them have been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan't be satisfied till I have seen them settled overseas. In this country in fifteen or twenty years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.'
I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation? The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that this country will not be worth living in for his children. I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else. What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking - not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history.
In fifteen or twenty years, on present trends, there will be in this country 3 1/2 million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants. That is not my figure. That is the official figure given to Parliament by the spokesman of the Registrar General's office. There is no comparable official figure for the year 2000, but it must be in the region of 5-7 million, approximately one-tenth of the whole population, and approaching that of Greater London. Of course, it will not be evenly distributed from Margate to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Aberdeen. Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by different sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population.
As time goes on, the proportion of this total who are immigrant descendants, those born in England, who arrived here by exactly the same route as the rest of us, will rapidly increase. Already by 1985 the native-born would constitute the majority. It is this fact above all which creates the extreme urgency of action now, of just that kind of action which is hardest for politicians to take, action where the difficulties lie in the present but the evils to be prevented or minimized lie several parliaments ahead.
The natural and rational first question with a nation confronted by such a prospect is to ask: 'How can its dimensions be reduced?' Granted it be not wholly preventable, can it be limited, bearing in mind that numbers are of the essence: the significance and consequences of an alien element introduced into a country or population are profoundly different according to whether that element is 1 per cent or 10 per cent. The answers to the simple and rational question are equally simple and rational: by stopping or virtually stopping, further inflow, and by promoting the maximum outflow. Both answers are part of the official policy of the Conservative Party.
It almost passes belief that at this moment twenty or thirty additional immigrant children are arriving from overseas in Wolverhampton alone every week - and that means fifteen or twenty additional families of a decade or two hence. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre. So insane are we that we actually permit unmarried persons to immigrate for the purpose of founding a family with spouses and fiancées whom they have never seen.
Let no one suppose that the flow of dependants will automatically tail off. On the contrary, even at the present admission rate of only 5,000 a year by voucher, there is sufficient for a further 325,000 dependants per annum ad infinitum, without taking into account the huge reservoir of existing relations in this country - and I am making no allowance at all for fraudulent entry. In these circumstances nothing will suffice but that the total inflow for settlement should be reduced at once to negligible proportions, and that the necessary legislative and administrative measures be taken without delay. I stress the words 'for settlement'.
This has nothing to do with the entry of Commonwealth citizens, any more than of aliens, into this country, for the purposes of study or of improving their qualifications, like (for instance) the Commonwealth doctors who, to the advantage of their own countries, have enabled our hospital service to be expanded faster than would otherwise have been possible. These are not, and never have been, immigrants.
I turn to re-emigration. If all immigration ended tomorrow, the rate of growth of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population would be substantially reduced, but the prospective size of this element in the population would still leave the basic character of the national danger unaffected. This can only be tackled while a considerable proportion of the total still comprises persons who entered this country during the last ten years or so. Hence the urgency of implementing now the second element of the Conservative Party's policy: the encouragement of re-emigration.
Nobody can make an estimate of the numbers which, with generous grants and assistance, would choose either to return to their countries of origin or to go to other countries anxious to receive the manpower and the skills they represent. Nobody knows, because no such policy has yet been attempted. I can only say that, even at present, immigrants in my own constituency from time to time come to me, asking if I can find them assistance to return home. If such a policy were adopted and pursued with the determination which the gravity of the alternative justifies, the resultant outflow could appreciably alter the prospects for the future.
It can be no part of any policy that existing family should be kept divided; but there are two directions in which families can be reunited, and if our former and present immigration laws have brought about the division of families, albeit voluntary or semi-voluntarily, we ought to be prepared to arrange for them to be reunited in their countries of origin. In short, suspension of immigration and encouragement of re-emigration hang together, logically and humanly, as two aspects of the same approach.
The third element of the Conservative Party's policy is that all who are in this country as citizens should be equal before the law and that there shall be no discrimination or difference made between them by public authority. As Mr. Heath has put it, we will have no 'first-class citizens' and 'second-class citizens'. This does not mean that the immigrant and his descendants should be elevated into a privileged or special class or that the citizen should be denied his right to discriminate in the management of his own affairs between one fellow citizen and another or that he should be subjected to inquisition as to his reasons and motives for behaving in one lawful manner rather than another.
There could be no grosser misconception of the realities than is entertained by those who vociferously demand legislation as they call it 'against discrimination', whether they be leader-writers of the same kidney and sometimes on the same newspapers which year after year in the 1930s tried to blind this country to the rising peril which confronted it, or archbishops who live in palaces, faring delicately with the bedclothes pulled right over their heads. They have got it exactly and diametrically wrong. The discrimination and the deprivation, the sense of alarm and resentment, lies not with the immigrant population but with those among whom they have come and are still coming. This is why to enact legislation of the kind before Parliament at this moment is to risk throwing a match on to the gunpowder. The kindest thing that can be said about those who propose and support it is they know not what they do.
Nothing is more misleading than comparison between the Commonwealth immigrant in Britain and the American Negro. The Negro population of the United states, which was already in existence before the United States became a nation, started literally as slaves and were later given the franchise and other rights of citizenship, to the exercise of which they have only gradually and still incompletely come. The Commonwealth immigrant came to Britain as a full citizen, to a country which knows no discrimination between one citizen and another, and he entered instantly into the possession of the rights of every citizen, from the vote to free treatment under the National Health Service. Whatever drawbacks attended the immigrants - and they were drawbacks which did not, and do not, make admission into Britain by hook or by crook appear less than desirable - arose not from the law or from public policy or from administration but from those personal circumstances and accidents which cause, and always will cause, the fortunes and experience of one man to be different for another's.
But while to the immigrant entry to this country was admission to privileges and opportunities eagerly sought, the impact upon the existing population was very different. For reasons which they could not comprehend, and in pursuance of a decision by default, on which they were never consulted, they found themselves made strangers in their own country. They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated; at work they found that employers hesitated to apply to the immigrant worker the standards of discipline and competence required of the native-born worker; they began to hear, as time went by, more and more voices which told them that they were now the unwanted. On top of this, they now learn that a one-way privilege is to be established by Act of Parliament: a law, which cannot, and is not intended, to operate to protect them or redress their grievances, is to be enacted to give the stranger, the disgruntled and the agent provocateur the power to pillory them for their private actions.
In the hundreds upon hundreds of letters I received when I last spoke on this subject two or three months ago, there was one striking feature which was largely new and which I find ominous. All Members of Parliament are used to the typical anonymous correspondent; but what surprised and alarmed me was the high proportion of ordinary, decent, sensible people, writing a rational and often well-educated letter, who believed that they had to omit their address because it was dangerous to have committed themselves to paper to a Member of Parliament agreeing with the views I had expressed, and that they would risk either penalties or reprisals if they were known to have done so. The sense of being a persecuted minority which is growing among ordinary English people in the areas of the country which are affected is something that those without direct experience can hardly imagine. I am going to allow just one of those hundreds of people to speak for me. She did give her name and address, which I have detached from the letter which I am about to read. She was writing from Northumberland about something which is happening at this moment in my own constituency:
Eight years ago in a respectable street in Wolverhampton a house was sold to a Negro. Now only one white (a woman old-age pensioner) lives there. This is her story. She lost her husband and both her sons in the war. So she turned her seven-roomed house, her only asset, into a boarding house. She worked hard and did well, paid off her mortgage and began to put something by for her old age. Then the immigrants moved in. With growing fear, she saw one house after another taken over. The quiet streets became a place of noise and confusion.
Regretfully, her white tenants moved out.
The day after the last one left, she was awakened at 7 a.m. by two Negroes who wanted to use her phone to contact their employer. When she refused, as she would have refused any stranger at such an hour, she was abused and feared she would have been attacked but for the chain on her door. Immigrant families have tried to rent rooms in her house, but she always refused. Her little store of money went, and after paying her rates, she had less than £2 per week. She went to apply for a rate reduction and was seen by a young girl, who on hearing she had a seven-roomed house, suggested she should let part of it. When she said the only people she could get were Negroes, the girl said 'racial prejudice won't get you anywhere in this country'. So she went home.
The telephone is her lifeline. Her family pay the bill, and help her out as best they can. Immigrants have offered to buy her house - at a price which the prospective landlord would be able to recover from his tenants in weeks, or at most in a few months. She is becoming afraid to go out.
Windows are broken. She finds excreta pushed through her letterbox. When she goes to the shops, she is followed by children, charming, wide-grinning piccaninnies. They cannot speak English, but one word they know. 'Racialist', they chant. When the new Race Relations Bill is passed, this woman is convinced she will go to prison. And is she so wrong? I begin to wonder.
The other dangerous delusion from which those who are wilfully or otherwise blind to realities suffer, is summed up in the word 'integration'. To be integrated into a population means to become for all practical purposes indistinguishable from its other members. Now, at all times, where there are marked physical differences, especially of colour, integration is difficult though, over a period, not impossible. There are among the Commonwealth immigrants have come to live here in the last fifteen years or so, many thousands whose wish and purpose is to be integrated and whose every thought and endeavour is bent in that direction. But to imagine that such a thing enters the heads of a great and growing majority of immigrants and their descendants is a ludicrous misconception, and a dangerous one to boot.
We are on the verge of here of a change. Hitherto it has been force of circumstance and of background which has rendered the very idea of integration inaccessible to the greater part of the immigrant population - that they never conceived or intended such a thing, and that their numbers and physical concentration meant the pressures towards integration which normally bear upon any small minority did not operate. Now we are seeing the growth of positive forces acting against integration, of vested interests in the preservation and sharpening of racial and religious differences, with a view to the exercise of action domination, first over fellow immigrants and then over the rest of the population. The cloud no bigger than a man's hand, that can so rapidly overcast the sky, has been visible recently in Wolverhampton and has shown signs of spreading quickly. The words I am about to use, verbatim as they appeared in the local press on 17 February, are not mine, but those of a Labour Member of Parliament who is a Minister in the present Government.
The Sikh communities' campaign to maintain customs inappropriate in Britain is much to be regretted. Working in Britain, particularly in the public services, they should be prepared to accept the terms and conditions of their employment. To claim special communal rights (or should one say rites?) leads to a dangerous fragmentation within society. This communalism is a canker: whether practised by one colour or another it is to be strongly condemned.
All credit to John Stonehouse for having had the insight to perceive that, and the courage to say it.
For these dangerous and divisive elements the legislation proposed in the Race Relations Bill is the very pabulum they need to flourish. Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organize to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding.
Like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood'. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century.
Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.
Enoch was right is a phrase of political rhetoric, employed generally by the far-right, inviting comparison of aspects of contemporary English society with predictions made by Enoch Powell in his 1968 Rivers of Blood speech.
The phrase implies criticism of political correctness, racial quotas, immigration and multiculturalism.
Looking at the postwar period in Great Britain, one might well be undecided about which decade was worst for the emergence and success of racism and racist politics. Was it the 1940s, when Mosley established his extreme-right Union Movement and already, through inter-racial confrontations like one in Deptford in 1949, it was becoming clear that Britain's newly emerging black population was not universally welcomed?
Or the 1950s, which were associated with high levels of overt discrimination in housing, the labour market and public facilities, with increasing racial violence (including notorious incidents in Notting Hill and elsewhere in 1958), and with growing pressure from the political mainstream to restrict immigration from the Commonwealth?
Or the 1960s, when it finally became apparent that Britain could not retain even the illusion of its tolerance, after the success of racist campaigns by the Conservative Party (as in Smethwick and Slough) in the 1964 general election, the disturbing levels of support achieved by an earlier British National Party (it won 9 per cent of the vote in Southall in 1964), and the mass support given to Enoch Powell after his April 1968 "rivers of blood" speech? Or was it the 1980s, when racism became ever more sanctioned by the state through increasingly restrictive legislation on nationality, immigration and asylum? Or even the 1990s, which have seen the continuation of the exclusionist legislative trends from the 1980s and also new moral panics on issues such as political asylum and East European Roma?
Of course, arguments of this sort are futile and in any event may be resolved only by having agreed common criteria but probably few would dispute that it was the 1970s that saw the most disconcerting extreme-right political racism in Britain. This is because such attitudes seemed likely, in some localities, to bring into the political mainstream extremist and often psychopathic individuals who wanted to expel Britain's increasingly established ethnic-minority communities and who in many cases also subscribed to Nazi sympathies and a traditional antisemitism of the most violent sort. For the 1970s were undoubtedly the decade of the National Front (NF), which as an electoral phenomenon of the extreme right was more widely successful than the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1930s, although the absence of national regimes elsewhere in Europe sympathetic to the NF meant that it was never perceived as a potential threat to the state as was the BUF in the 1930s, and so it was less observed and infiltrated by the official surveillance apparatuses.
1977 Anti-fascists protest against NF march at Wood Green in North London
The NF had been formed in late 1966 to early 1967 from the amalgamation of several earlier racist or extreme-right groupings, including the League of Empire Loyalists, an earlier British National Party, and the Racial Preservation Society, to be joined by John Tyndall, Martin Webster and others from the Greater Britain Movement, a tiny group of overt Nazi sympathisers. The NF made a modest impact in local and parliamentary by-elections in the late 1960s.
By the 1970 general election, although it had a candidate in only ten constituencies, some of its areas of later strength were already apparent: parts of London, the East and West Midlands and West Yorkshire. The more successful NF branches had been established by the early 1970s.
The party's earliest activists had placed themselves and the NF to the right of the Conservative Party and had assumed that the NF would appeal predominantly to disgruntled ex-Conservatives, but the 1960s were to prove that a more significant source of support would be racist voters. Many but by no means all were working class in origin, and many - but again by no means all - were usually Labour voters; they were often in inner-city working-class areas or on peripheral council estates, especially in provincial cities such as Leicester and Wolverhampton. In fact, the NF was one of the first extreme-right parties in Europe to use crude expulsionist anti-black and anti-Asian racism as the prime basis of its electoral appeal.
Of course, during the 1960s, especially in his 1964 and 1968 Presidential campaigns, George Wallace had successfully used an analogous appeal in the United States based on segregation, but most extreme-right parties in Europe had initially been most vehemently anti-communist or anti-American and had particularly solicited support from displaced groups likely to respond to anti-communist or pro-colonial appeals, such as postwar German expellees from Eastern European or French ex-colonists from Algeria. Only in the 1970s did most continental extreme-right parties turn more exclusively to anti-immigrant or xenophobic tactics, inspired in part by the apparent electoral successes achieved by the NF in Britain.
By the early 1970s the NF was well implanted in a number of provincial cities and in some western boroughs of London such as Brent, Hillingdon and Hounslow. In a notorious 1972 Uxbridge parliamentary by-election, when public reaction to the arrival of expelled Asians from Uganda was still at its most intolerant, the NF candidate was openly assisted by members of the Conservative fringe organisation, the Monday Club, and won more than 8 per cent of votes cast.
At a by-election in West Bromwich in May 1973 Martin Webster, the party's National Activities Organiser, won more than 16 per cent of votes cast in a low-turnout contest. The two general elections of 1974, particularly that in October, were remarkable for showing new centres of NF support based on London's inner and extended East End, which became the NF's most consistent location of strength, having for more than a century been intermittently drawn to political movements against one-time immigrant groups, whether Jewish or Bangladeshi.
In 1975 the NF was threatened by a split, which had some parallels to the one that was to occur in 1998-99 inside the French Front National between Jean-Marie Le Pen and Bruno Mégret. A group around the former Conservative John Kingsley Read, whose power base was Blackburn, founded a breakaway party called the National Party of the United Kingdom (NP) in an attempt electorally to marginalise the NF. The split was often interpreted at the time as being between the self-avowedly one-time nazis in the NF, such as Tyndall and Webster, and the moderates. While it is true that the moderates often pointed publicly to the Nazi-sympathising origins of some NF leaders, it would be a mistake - as with the Le Pen/Mégret split - to regard the breakaway group as having been any more moderate on the issues of race and immigrants. Searchlight was one of those who at the time rejected this simplistic interpretation. In any case, in the longer term, the breakaway party failed. It had some local strength in Deptford and even succeeded in electing two councillors in the 1976 district council elections in Blackburn, though one was quickly disqualified and the NP failed to win the consequent by-election.
Despite the split, 1976 was the NF's most successful year. With the public sensitised by sensational mass-media treatment of a number of immigration-related events, the party polled well in local elections in several provincial cities in early May, including Leicester, Bradford and Wolverhampton. These successes, impressive for an obviously extremist and racist party though without actually producing elected councillors, continued in local and parliamentary by-elections through 1976 and into early 1977. However, although it was not realised at the time, by mid-1977 the NF's electoral bubble was beginning to burst. There had been, perhaps providentially, no London borough council elections in 1976, but the NF's performances in the Greater London Council elections of early May 1977 did provide considerable publicity for the party and evoked much concern, especially on the left, about the danger it posed. The party fought 91 of the 92 constituencies in the Greater London area, winning overall more than 5 per cent of votes cast and scoring 19 per cent in Hackney South & Shoreditch. These results were one factor leading to the formal foundation of the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) in late 1977.
In reality, some of the danger had already passed, although the ANL may well have accelerated the electoral decline of the NF or successfully prevented any recovery after its fortunes began to wane. In local elections in May 1978, associated with a lot of anti-NF publicity material from the ANL, it became very apparent that the NF was not holding all its support. Although it fought numerous contests - including almost all wards in the London boroughs of Enfield, Islington, Hackney, Haringey, Tower Hamlets, and Waltham Forest - it nowhere came close to winning a seat and, where comparisons with the previous year were possible, its average support was almost always reduced.
In the 1979 general election the party put all its resources into an electoral effort but, despite an earlier boast by Tyndall in the party's one radio election broadcast that "in some places we shall beat the Liberals", nowhere did this happen and the NF's total of 303 candidates averaged a humiliating 1.3 per cent of votes cast in their contests.
The party then imploded, disintegrating into several different groups and factions in 1979 and 1980. Its earlier leaders lost control as a disgruntled younger generation manoeuvred for power. Webster was suspended from membership amid insinuations about his sexual orientation that had previously been muted. In January 1980 Tyndall was obliged to resign his chairmanship, to be replaced by Andrew Brons.
In June Tyndall left the party, first to found a so-called New National Front and then in 1982 the British National Party (BNP). Even the institutions of the state moved against the NF. A Department of the Environment inquiry supported an attempt by Hackney Borough Council to expel the party from headquarters that it had acquired in Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch. In early 1982 Joe Pearce, scion of Dagenham, a leader of the Young NF and editor of its notoriously unpleasant journal, Bulldog, was gaoled for six months for a breach of the Public Order Act 1936.
Even an attempt by the NF during the early 1980s to eschew electoral politics and to emphasise itself as a racist presence on the streets ultimately failed to rebuild the party, partly because the rival
British Movement founder Colin Jordan
British Movement (BM) pursued a similar strategy, although some of this street-based approach persisted in skinhead groups and contributed to the growth in Britain of the neo-Nazi music scene. British Movement founder Colin Jordan is pictured on right.
Why then did the NF emerge to prominence in the 1970s and decline into a groupuscule in the 1980s? There is no doubt that large sections of the public were intolerantly sensitised to immigration-related stories in the 1960s and 1970s, especially because of their treatment in local and national media.
Moreover, the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially after the 1973 Oil Crisis, were the first period since the 1950s when it became obvious that the economy was not under the control of the government; economic crises recurred regularly and successive governments were unable to prevent them or shield the public from their unpleasant consequences. It is not difficult to see how governments that had demonstrably lost control of the economy were vulnerable to the suggestion that they were equally incapable in other areas of public concern, such as immigration control.
An anti-system party making exclusionist and expulsionist promises could exploit such feelings. By the same token, however, it is difficult to sustain electoral support based on a single issue such as crude racism, particularly if nothing seems to change as a result of voting for the party and its candidates fail to get elected. Maintaining longer-term support requires a relatively sophisticated ideological base, which the NF failed to provide to its mass electorate.
The party's leadership was increasingly besmirched by repeated publicity concerning its past and continuing Nazi sympathies and the NF did become increasingly disreputable in the eyes of the public through its association with violence, as seen at demonstrations against it most famously in Lewisham in 1977, Brixton in 1978 and Southall in 1979, the last remaining long in the public consciousness through the controversy surrounding the death of Blair Peach (pictured left).
While polls at the time revealed that many people were ambivalent about the tactics of confrontation of anti-fascists such as the ANL, there is no doubting the widespread suspicion towards any form of political violence and any party associated with it.
However, the most compelling reason for the NF's demise from the late 1970s was the stance of the Tory party under Margaret Thatcher. A one-issue party is particularly susceptible to the co-optation of its only basis of appeal, especially by a more successful larger one. True, the Conservative Party was exclusionist rather than expulsionist, but there is no doubting that its Leader's talk about "swamping" and its very visible application of immigration control, called for in Opposition and effected once in power, successfully drew off the NF vote. The fact that this is the principal single reason for the NF's decline is perhaps a particularly unpleasant irony of its 1970s history.
Christopher T Husbands
British Nationalist Party (BNP)
United Kingdom Independence Party
Rivers of Blood speech
Notable Names from Britain’s far Right
BNP's Nick Griffin
British ‘Neo –Nazi’ Parties