16 April 2018

Enoch was wrong: How Britain moved on from ‘Rivers of Blood’

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New research into public attitudes to race, faith and integration 50 years since Powell’s infamous speech

Fifty years on from Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, Britain has largely moved on from the divisive opinions Powell voiced on race, according to new national research on public attitudes – though more work is needed to combat the prejudice still held by a minority. Only 48% of people know about Enoch Powell and his infamous speech and less than one-in-five under-34s (18%), compared to eight out of ten over-65s (82%).

Yet he anniversary is an important moment to take stock of the story of social change on race, immigration and integration in Britain. So for its new report, Many Rivers Crossed: Britain’s attitudes to race and integration 50 years since ‘Rivers of Blood,’ British Future conducted UK-wide Survation polling and in-depth research groups in the West Midlands, including in Wolverhampton where Powell served as MP for 24 years. That research finds strong social norms against racism, while noting too that there is more work needed to stamp out he prejudices that a minority still hold.

Most people agree that we are less prejudiced today than in Powell’s day. Six in ten (59%) say that there was more racial prejudice back in 1968, rising to two-thirds (67%) of those who are over 65, old enough to remember it. Among ethnic minorities, age is an even bigger factor: two-thirds (66%) of over-65s and 73% of 55-64s agree that racial prejudice was worse 50 years ago.

Younger minority Britons, however, aren’t so sure: about half think things were worse back then but others think it may have been the same or that there may have been less prejudice in the past. 28% believe there is more racial discrimination today when applying for jobs than there was 50 years ago, for example.

Racism and prejudice has not gone away – though it is confined to a minority. 17% of ethnic minorities surveyed had experienced racial, ethnic or religious-based prejudices directed at them on social media and 33% had experienced it in the street or on public transport.

Attitudes to Britain’s Muslim citizens are also cooler than those towards other minorities. While two-thirds of people (65%) would be comfortable with a Muslim prime minister, 35% would not. More than half of those surveyed (56%) think Muslims face ‘a lot’ of prejudice today.

The research identifies substantial differences in attitudes across the generations, regardless of ethnic background. The children of the 80s and 90s who have grown up in multi-racial Britain are most at ease with Britain’s diversity. Among 18-24s, 86% of would be happy for their child to marry someone of a different race and eight-in-ten (79%) would be comfortable with a Muslim Prime Minister

That also means they are more aware of prejudice when it occurs – and less confident about the progress that Britain has made on attitudes to race since the days of Enoch Powell.

There is agreement across racial, political and generational divide, however, on what we need to do now to make integration work. Three-quarters of all people (74%) agree that “To build a shared pride in Britain today, we should respect our diversity but focus more on what brings us all together. Integration works when everyone speaks English and our schools are mixed, not segregated, so people do meet and get along.” Just 6% disagree.

In Many rivers crossed British Future also reports from West Park Primary, the Wolverhampton school cast into the spotlight by Powell’s speech 50 years ago and engaging with that troubled history in its diverse classrooms today. Former pupil Angela Spence writes about growing up in Wolverhampton in the aftermath of the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech and local charity worker John Catley writes about his own journey from supporting Powell to working for refugees.  Public voices including Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, Lib Dem leader Vince Cable and Counter-Extremism Commissioner Sara Khan also offer their take on Britain 50 years after ‘Rivers of Blood’ and what they would say to Enoch Powell if he were alive today.


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