In April 1968, two weeks after the riots that devastated US cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the British Tory politician Enoch Powell (who as minister of health between 1960 and 1963 had presided over the large-scale recruitment of nursing and health staff from Britain’s former colonies) predicted that a similar destiny was facing Britain. “We must be mad,” he said,
literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, 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.
Quoting a phrase of Virgil’s that would resonate famously down the decades, he warned: “I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.'”
Though the Tory party leader Edward Heath immediately fired him from his post as opposition spokesman on defense, Powell’s speech had struck a powerful chord. Within ten days he had received more than 100,000 letters of support, with only eight hundred expressing disagreement. In London more than a thousand dockworkers went on strike in protest at his dismissal. Anxiety about immigration had a significant part in the unexpected victory that restored the Conservative Party to power in 1970.
Powell, who died in 1998, has been castigated as a racist and condemned, not to say vilified, by the liberal left; but as Christopher Caldwell argues in his provocatively titled book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, his demographic predictions have proved remarkably accurate. In one of his speeches Powell shocked his audience by predicting that Britain’s nonwhite population of barely a million would reach 4.5 million by 2002; according to the Office of National Statistics, the size of Britain’s “ethnic minority” population actually reached 4.6 million in 2001. His predictions for the ethnic composition of major cities such as Wolverhampton, Birmingham, and Inner London were similarly on target. Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality predicts that by 2011 the population of Leicester will be 50 percent nonwhite, making it the first major British city without a white majority.
This pattern is being replicated in cities throughout Western Europe. According to Caldwell, Europe is now a “continent of migrants” with more than 10 percent of its people living outside their countries of birth. The figure includes both non-European immigrants and citizens of countries belonging to the enlarged European Union who are permitted to move freely within its territory. But it also includes a substantial body of immigrants—namely Muslims—whom Caldwell regards as posing “the most acute problems” on account of their religion (an issue never mentioned by Powell in his speeches).
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