Enoch Powell

The history of racial violence in Britain: A short reading list

I saw this tweet during the week:

And then tweeted this:

The list that I tweeted out was quite well received so I thought I’d compile the list here.

Laura Tabili, We Ask for British Justice: Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994). (link)

Jacqueline Jenkinson, Black 1919: Riots, Racism and Resistance in Imperial Britain (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009) (link)

John Belchem, Before Windrush: Race Relations in 20th Century Liverpool (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2014) (link)

Panikos Panayi, ‘Middlesbrough 1961: A British Race Riot of the 1960s?’, Social History, 16/2, 1991, pp. 139-153 (link)

Panikos Panayi (ed.), Racial Violence in Britain, 1840-1950 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993) (link)

Graham Macklin, A Very Deeply Dyed in Black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the Postwar Reconstruction of British Fascism (London: IB Tauris, 2007) (link)

Morris Beckman, The 43 Group: The Untold Story of Their Fight Against Fascism (London: Centerprise, 2000) (link)

Mark Olden, Murder in Notting Hill (London: Zero Books, 2011 (link)

Robert Miles, ‘The Riots of 1958: Notes on the Ideological Construction of “Race Relations” as a Political Issue in Britain’, Immigrants and Minorities, 3/3, 1984, pp. 252-275 (link)

Paul Jackson, Colin Jordan and Britain’s Neo-Nazi Movement (London: Bloomsbury, 2017) (link)

Rob Witte, Racist Violence and the State (London: Routledge, 2014) (link)

Camilla Schofield, Enoch Powell and the Making of Postcolonial Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) (link)

Stan Taylor, The National Front in English Politics (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1982) (link)

Anandi Ramamurthy, Black Star: Britain’s Asian Youth Movements (London: Pluto Press, 2013) (link)

Zig Layton-Henry, ‘Racial Attacks in Britain’, Patterns of Prejudice, 16/2, 1982, pp. 3-13 (link)

Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (London: Pluto Press, 2010) (link)

Nigel Copsey & Matthew Worley (eds), Tomorrow Belongs to Us: The British Far Right since 1967 (London: Routledge, 2018) (link)

Suzella Palmer, ‘”Dutty Babylon”: Policing Black Communities and the Politics of Resistance’, Criminal Justice Matters, 87, March 2012, pp. 26-27 (link)

Lord Macpherson, The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (Cmnd 4262) (link)

Harmit Athwal, Black Deaths in Custody (London: IRR, 2002) (link)

Institute of Race Relations, Driven to Desperate Measures (London: IRR, 2007) (link)

Harmit Athwal & Jenny Bourne, Dying for Justice (London: IRR, 2014) (link)

There are obviously more, but this might be a start. Please add your own suggestions below!

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From Powell to Brexit: My interview with the Weekly Worker on ‘race’, anti-racism and the British left

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This week, the CPGB’s Weekly Worker (see here for more info on its background) conducted an interview with me about my forthcoming book, British Communism and the Politics of Race, as well as on my research in general and the anti-racist movement in Britain since the 1960s. You can read the full interview here. It was an interesting experience and some challenging questions!

New piece at History & Policy: Brexit, imperial nostalgia and the “white man’s world”

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This is just a quick note to let people know that the website History & Policy has published a piece by myself and Steven Gray (University of Portsmouth) on Brexit and imperial nostalgia for the ‘white man’s world’ of the former settler colonies. You can read the piece here.

 

Powellism and the advent of the British far right: The Communist Party response

48 years ago this week, Tory Minister Enoch Powell gave his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, in which he predicted dire consequences for Britain if further immigration from the Commonwealth continued. While criticised by many at the time, Powell’s speech opened up a political space to the right of the Conservative Party, mobilising around the issue of non-white immigration. This opening of the political space allowed far right organisations, such as the Monday Club, the National Front and the British Movement, to come to the fore and take advantage of the expression of popular racism by sections of the British public. For the burgeoning anti-racist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Powellism presented a significant threat that had been underestimated by many anti-racists and those on the left, including the Communist Party.

This post is based on an extract from my forthcoming book on the Communist Party of Great Britain and the politics of race between the 1940s and the 1980s. I submitted the final version to the publishers today, so look out for it in early 2017!

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Although concerns over the social impact of non-white immigration had been expressed in parliamentary and extra-parliamentary discourses since the 1940s, a major turning point in the discourse was Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech in April 1968, who brought the populist tone of the far right to a mainstream audience. Speaking at a local Conservative Party meeting in Birmingham, Powell launched a tirade against non-white migration, stating:

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…

We are on the verge 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… 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 actual domination, first over fellow immigrants and then over the rest of the population…

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’.[i]

Powell’s speech alluded to the views of the ‘ordinary British citizen’ on race relations, immigration and ‘alien cultures’, appropriating the ‘crude and inconsistent racism expressed in the factories, shopping centres and pubs… endorsed by a politician who had the authority of education, political office and a position in the Shadow cabinet’.[ii] Powell attributed one of the most controversial remarks of the speech to an anonymous constituent, ‘a middle-aged, quite ordinary working man’, exploiting the anxieties of a large section of the British population in his declaration: ‘In this country in fifteen of twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip over the white man’.[iii] Although dismissed by Edward Heath for the shadow cabinet, Powell’s exploitation of popular racism generated much support for him with a Gallup Poll in May 1968 revealing that ‘74 per cent of those questioned agreed in general with his views and 24 per cent said they would like him to be leader of the Conservative Party if Edward Heath retired’.[iv] In the week following Powell’s speech, a series of strikes occurred across Britain, most prominently amongst the London dock workers, in support of Powell, either for his racist views or his right to free speech.

It was also Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech that allowed the National Front to exploit popular racist attitudes as Powell ‘brought the language and arguments of the neo-fascist political fringe into the heart of the establishment’.[v] ‘There can be little doubt’, Richard Thurlow wrote, ‘that the NF would not have survived if Enoch Powell had not unwittingly given it such a helping hand in its infancy’.[vi] Powell’s speech gave the NF a massive boost, with it claiming 10,000 members in April 1968, although Searchlight editor, Gerry Gable estimated that it was probably around 7,000 ‘fully paid up’ members.[vii] However Powell was still seen as part of the Conservative establishment, which the NF tried to distant itself from. This led to a clash between the NF’s Director and BUF veteran, A.K. Chesterton and the more militant members, such as John Tyndall and Martin Webster, who were ‘desperate… to capitalize on support for Enoch Powell’ – a strategy that Chesterton, who eschewed the populism of Powell, had ‘resolutely opposed’.[viii] This clash resulted in Chesterton resigning in October 1970, with John O’Brien, a recent convert from the Conservative right via the National Democratic Party (NDP), becoming chairman in February 1971.[ix] Of the other founding members, Andrew Fountaine had earlier been expelled by Chesterton in mid-1968 and John Bean (from the British National Party) publicly disassociated himself from those who ousted Chesterton, despite being suggested for the post and withdrew from active politics.[x] O’Brien attempted to purge the NF of its neo-Nazi elements, represented in the leadership by Tyndall and Webster and throughout 1971, the factional fighting continued, but Tyndall was able to survive. In early 1972, O’Brien and his supporters defected to the National Independence Party (NIP), with Tyndall replacing him as chairman.[xi]

The formation of the National Front in February 1967 largely escaped protest from anti-fascist forces, with Nigel Copsey explaining that ‘opposition to the NF in the late 1960s was mainly restricted to a small amount of militant anti-fascists who followed the pattern of covert activity undertaken against the NF’s immediate predecessors’.[xii] This covert anti-fascist strategy, as well as the National Front’s relative obscurity, saw the Communist Party not particularly involved in anti-fascist action against the NF. The CPGB, symptomatic of the left in Britain as a whole, was ‘more concerned about the racial populism of Enoch Powell than the National Front’.[xiii]

Enoch Powell’s speech had encouraged ‘vicious racialist and fascist forces’ into ‘stirring up hatred against coloured people’ and ‘trying to whip up mass fear and hysteria’, but the ‘real enemy of all working people’, the Communist Party stated, was capitalism and the ‘Tory and right wing Labour Governments [who] keep the system going’.[xiv] Powell was described by Joan Bellamy in a 1968 CPGB pamphlet as ‘a diehard Tory who has never done anything to help the working people’, but this did not mean he was a fascist.[xv] However, by using the racist language normally associated with the fascist far right, Powell had ‘deliberately chose[n] to use words that would fan the flame of hatred, words that help to create an atmosphere in which people no longer listen to rational argument and facts’.[xvi] Joan Bellamy stating that, ‘Leading fascists were quick to recognise what Powell was doing’, noting that Colin Jordan, Oswald Mosley and Dennis Harmston of the Union Movement were in public agreement with Powell’s argument.[xvii]

The Communist Party relied on reports from Jewish organisations, the anti-fascist journal Searchlight and its own intelligence for knowledge on the fascist far right. The most detailed CPGB document on the NF in the early period was a May 1969 internal memo on ‘Rightist and Fascist Development’, which outlined the major figures in the NF and the structure of the organisation.[xviii] This report claimed that the ‘most serious and dangerous organisation appears to be the National Front… trying to take over right groups’ and able to ‘mobilise people quickly’.[xix] However as an article in Comment in July 1969 stated, for the CPGB, ‘Enoch Powell emerges ever more clearly as the most reactionary influence in British politics today’, with the author declaring that the Party must ‘redouble our efforts to defeat Powellism’.[xx]

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Powell’s speech tapped into existing feelings of popular racism and in the week following, a series of strikes occurred across Britain, most prominently amongst London dockworkers, in support of Powell, either for his racist views or his right to free speech. The response by the Communist Party was to emphasise who Powell was and what his politics were, stating that Powell was a ‘diehard Tory who has never done anything to help working people’ and a ‘declared enemy of the trade unions’.[xxi] At the executive level of the labour movement, where the CPGB held significant influence, the Morning Star reported on official motions of opposition to racism by the trade unions,[xxii] but at shopfloor level, the Party’s presence was less prominent. John Callaghan described the Communist Party members on the docks, who distributed leaflets denouncing Powell and ‘bravely addressed hostile mass meetings’, but acknowledged that the support for Powell demonstrated how marginal the Communist Party’s influence could be.[xxiii] With its members on the docks put ‘clearly on the defensive’ by the Powellite strikes,[xxiv] CPGB and LCDTU member, Danny Lyons ‘decided to bring in one of the Catholic padres to speak at the dock-gates’ in a hastily organised meeting.[xxv] While this action was felt to be misguided by other Communist dockworkers, Jack Dash, a leading Party member on the docks, stated retrospectively, ‘I thought it was wrong but then they had to do something’,[xxvi] which turned out, in the end, to be very limited. The Party’s limited influence on the docks at rank-and-file level and its dependence on its broad left allies in the labour movement had a significant impact upon its ability to fight racism during the Powellite strikes, but what the strikes did reveal was the level of popular racism still existing within the organised labour movement and the difficulties ahead for the Party in the struggle against racism.

In the wake of this, there was push in late 1968 and early 1969 to emphasise the campaign against racism by the Party and the YCL. A memo from the National Organiser at the time, Gordon McLennan to Frank Stanley, the London District Secretary, in May 1969 called for greater activity, particularly amongst the labour movement. This was to include ‘[t]he distribution of a Party leaflet on a wide scale at factories, trade union meetings, houses, etc, as well as ‘[f]actory gate and street meetings in which the fight against racialism will feature.’[xxvii] Most of the Party’s anti-racist literature produced between 1968 and 1970 concentrated on Enoch Powell and the influence that he had over sections of the Conservatives. What the Communist Party were anxious over was the continual tightening of controls as both Labour and the Conservatives made tougher proposals. As John Hostettler wrote, the Labour Government was ‘trying to show it [was] not to be outdone by Mr Heath who [was] trying to show he [was] not far behind Mr Powell’.[xxviii]

Throughout the early 1970s, Enoch Powell continued to dominate Conservative thinking about immigration and there is a suggestion by scholars that the Conservatives were eventually convinced by Powell’s argument, leading to the introduction of the Immigration Act 1971.[xxix] The Communist Party attempted to emphasise the association between Powellism and the National Front, trying to break the ‘respectable’ racism of Powell and the Monday Club. In a flyer distributed by the Westminster CPGB branch, it announced that ‘fascism is on the march again’, warning that it ‘wears the “respectable” face of Enoch Powell’, as well as appearing in ‘its most naked form in the National Front’.[xxx] The flyer called for the banning of a NF march in London, but also warned against Powell, ‘who pours out racialism whenever he appears on the telly’ and ‘publicly stated that whenever he sees a rich man he thanks God!’[xxxi] For the CPGB, the NF were ‘working to strengthen the capitalist system’, blaming black immigrants for the problems of capitalism and despite any appeal to the interests of the working class, ‘racialism plays into the hands of the capitalist class’.[xxxii] The aim of the NF was ‘to smash the trade union movement and make it servile to the state in the interests of state monopoly capital’, with ‘racialism… only the most obvious of their anti-working class policies’.[xxxiii] Essentially this was viewed as the same agenda as Enoch Powell, who Joan Bellamy described as ‘a declared enemy of the trade unions’.[xxxiv] The consensus was that Powell’s speech had given the fledgling NF valuable exposure that allowed the fascist fringe to exploit popular racism and anti-immigration sentiment. ‘“Enoch is Right” became the slogan of everyone from the Tory Monday Club through the National Front out to every tinpot little nazi sect’, Bob Campbell wrote in the Morning Star, linking Powell, the NF, various anti-immigration groups and the Orange movement.[xxxv] However there were differences between the various elements of the far right. Powell, as a traditional Conservative, ‘warned of the dangers of a corporate state emerging from the relationship between the Labour Government, the TUC and the CBI’, while the NF ‘tend toward[s] corporate statism… and suggest they are opposed to capitalism’.[xxxvi] But ‘what unites all the elements of the ultra right in Britain’, he wrote, ‘is the racist campaign on the question of immigration, and against black people as a whole’.[xxxvii] Although in private correspondence with Vishnu Sharma, a CPGB and IWA member, Joan Bellamy criticised Campbell for elevating the danger of these far right organisations when ‘the major enemy is racialist attitudes among people who do not have a consistent fascist or even right wing position, and the cowardly connivance of Troy and Labour politicians with right wing demands.’[xxxviii]

However, while Powell enjoyed wide popularity as an individual between 1968 and 1974,[xxxix] his political momentum stalled as he became a Tory backbencher and decided not to join one of the many anti-immigrant or far right groups that supported him (or form a party of his own). ‘Powellism’ and its anti-immigration message was soon overtaken by the Conservatives with the Immigration Act 1971, and then by the fascism of the National Front – and in the end, this racist populism was imbibed by early Thatcherism.

Anti-immigration march by Smithfield market porters

[i] Powell, Enoch, 1991, ‘To the Annual General Meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre’, in Reflections of a Statesman: The Writings and Speeches of Enoch Powell, selected by Rex Collings, London: Bellew Publishing, p. 375; pp. 378-79.

[ii] Miles, Robert & Phizacklea, Annie, 1984, White Man’s Country: Racism in British Politics, London: Pluto Press, p. 64.

[iii] Powell 1991, pp. 373-74.

[iv] Miles and Phizacklea 1984, p. 64.

[v]Thurlow, Richard 1987, Fascism in Britain: A History 1918-1985, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, p. 276.

[vi] Ibid., p. 279.

[vii] ‘Rightist and Fascist Developments’, 2 May 1969, in CPGB archives CP/CENT/SUBS/04/16, Labour History Archive and Study Centre, Manchester.

[viii]Walker, Martin 1977, The National Front, London: Harper Collins, p. 94.

[ix]Shipley, Peter 1978, ‘The National Front’, Conflict Studies, 97, p. 14.

[x] Anti-Fascist Research Group, Anti-Fascist Bulletin, 5, March-June 1971, p. 27.

[xi]Lewis, D.S. 1987, Illusions of Grandeur: Mosley, Fascism and British Society, 1931-81, Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 252.

[xii] Copsey 2000, p. 116.

[xiii] Copsey 2000, p. 116.

[xiv] Bellamy, Homes, Jobs, Immigration – The Facts, pp. 2-3.

[xv] Bellamy, Joan, 1971, Homes, Jobs, Immigration – The Facts, >London: CPGB pamphlet, p. 3.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] ‘Rightist and Fascist Developments’

[xix] ‘Rightist and Fascist Developments’

[xx] Barnsby, George, ‘Wolverhampton and Powell’, Comment, 12 July 1969, p. 442.

[xxi] Bellamy, 1971, p. 3.

[xxii] Morning Star, 25 April 1968.

[xxiii]Callaghan, John, 2003, Cold War, Crisis and Conflict: The CPGB 1951-68, London: Lawrence & Wishart, p. 112.

[xxiv]Lindop, Fred, 2001, ‘Racism and the Working Class: Strikes in Support of Enoch Powell in 1968’, Labour History Review, 66, 1, p. 91.

[xxv] Jack Dash, interview by Fred Lindop, 1984, MSS.371/QD7/Docks 2/10/1, Trade Unionism in British Docks, in Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Letter from Gordon McLennan to Frank Stanley, 28 May 1969, in CPGB archives, CP/LON/RACE/02/02, LHASC.

[xxviii] Hostettler, John, ‘Immigrants, Race Relations and the Law’, Comment, 12 July 1969, p. 438.

[xxix] See: Ben-Tovim, Gideon and John Gabriel 1982, ‘The politics of race in Britain, 1962-79: A review of the major trends and of recent debates’, in ‘Race’ in Britain: Continuity and Change, edited by Charles Husband, London: Hutchinson, pp. 150-51; Miles and Phizacklea 1984, pp. 68-9; Turner, Alwyn W. 2008, Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s, London: Aurum Press, p. 27.

[xxx] ‘Westminster Communists Say… Outlaw the Racists’, n.d., London: CPGB flyer, in CPGB archives, CP/LON/EVNT/03/07, LHASC.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] ‘Don’t Be Fooled By The National Front!’, n.d., London: CPGB flyer, in CPGB archives, CP/IND/KAY/03/05, LHASC.

[xxxiii] Trade Union Committee Against Racialism, ‘National Front – Election Campaign Notes’, in CPGB archives, CP/CENT/CTTE/02/05, LHASC.

[xxxiv] Bellamy, 1971, p. 3.

[xxxv] Morning Star, 22 February 1973.

[xxxvi] Morning Star, 1 March 1973; Italics are my emphasis.

[xxxvii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] Letter from Joan Bellamy to Vishnu Sharma, 15 March 1973, in CPGB archives, CP/CENT/CTTE/02/05, LHASC.

[xxxix] Schofield, Camilla 2013, Enoch Powell and the Making of a Postcolonial Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 317.

‘By whatever means necessary’: The origins of the ‘no platform’ policy

Recently the concept of ‘no platform’ was in the news again when there were attempts to cancel a talk by Germaine Greer at Cardiff University. While there is no doubt that the use of ‘no platform’ has expanded since its first use in the 1970s, the term is bandied about in the media with little definition and understanding of how it was developed as a specific response to the fascism of the National Front (and later the British National Party). This post looks back at the origins of the term and how it was developed into a practical anti-fascist strategy.

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In the early 1970s, the term ‘no platform’ was first used to describe the anti-fascist strategy of denying fascist organisations the public space to organise and disseminate their propaganda. The denial of public space had been an integral part of the militant anti-fascist movement since the 1930s, employed by the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), various Jewish groups and other assorted anti-fascists. Fighting Oswald Mosley’s BUF, these anti-fascists broke up meetings, occupied spaces to prevent the BUF gaining access and mobilised massive demonstrations to physically confront the fascists in the streets. This continued after the war with various groups, such as the 43 Group, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and the Revolutionary Communist Party, joining the CPGB to combat Mosley’s Union Movement. As well as physically confronting the UM, part of the anti-fascists’ strategy was appealing to the local councils, particularly in boroughs where the Labour Party was in charge, to deny the UM (or its various aliases) access to any council property. The anti-fascist movement was quite successful in its approach and Mosley fled to Ireland in the early 1950s. Until the emergence of the National Front in late 1960s, the fascist groups in Britain remained small and the anti-fascist movement gradually faded away.

Forming in 1967, the National Front brought together a number of disparate fascist and anti-immigration groups and by the early 1970s, it was making headway by attracting disaffected Conservative Party voters who felt that the Tories were ‘too soft’ on immigration. Particularly when the Ugandan Asian controversy emerged in 1972, the NF publicised its opposition to letting these British citizens into the country after the Heath government acknowledged that it had legal reason to deny them entry. The first use of the term ‘no platform’ (that I have been able to find) comes from that year. The Red Mole was the newspaper of the International Marxist Group (IMG), a Trotskyist organisation that built quickly amongst the student and anti-Vietnam War movements in the late 1960s. In the issue for September 18, 1972, the front page headline declared ‘NO PLATFORM FOR RACISTS’. It described the NF and the Monday Club (a pro-empire and anti-immigration grouping within the Conservative Party) as ‘mortal enemies of the working class’ and stated that these two groups ‘must be stopped in their tracks’. The newspaper argued that these groups needed to be confronted and were ‘not going to be convinced by rational argument’, calling for ‘a concerted counter-attack’ at meetings of both groups.

The IMG proposed that groups like the NF could not be afforded ‘free speech’ because ‘their racist campaigns are a means to destroy the organisations of the working class which defend such bourgeois democratic rights’. The same issue claimed:

the only way to deal with fascist type organisations like the National Front is to break up their activities before they grow to a size where they can begin to smash the activities of the working class.

While acknowledging that ‘[w]e are nowhere near a threatened Fascist coup yet’, but said ‘the methods necessary on preventing such a threat must be explained and demonstrated in practice now… We must begin to adopt the right tactics right from the start.’

The IMG was one of the most influential leftist groups amongst the student movement in Britain in the early 1970s, but competed with the International Socialists and the CPGB (who were part of the Broad Left group with students associated with the Labour left). The NUS in 1974 was under the leadership of Steve Parry, a member of the CPGB and the Broad Left, and were in agreement (in principle) that a policy of ‘no platform’ should be applied to NF and other fascist organisations attempting to recruit students on university campuses. At the Liverpool conference in 1974, the policy of ‘no platform’ was devised as part of a wider stance against racism. Amendment 4 of the resolution on the fight against racialism stated:

Conference recognises the need to refuse assistance (financial or otherwise) to openly racist or fascist organisations or societies… and to deny them a platform.

However conference believes that in order to counter these groups, it is also necessary to prevent any member of these organisations or individuals known to espouse similar views from speaking in colleges by whatever means necessary (including disrupting of the meeting).

Student unions were called upon to ‘prevent any racist or fascist propaganda being displayed, sold, distributed, or propagated through meetings by whatever means may be necessary’.

Although agreed in principle the concept of ‘no platform’, the Communist Party, the IMG and the IS differed on the details of the resolution and how the strategy should be applied. The IMG felt that the joint action suggested in the resolution would not transfer into practice and declared that the other left-wing groups were unwilling to be involved in such joint practical action. Steve Webster wrote in Red Weekly (the renamed paper of the IMG):

The fascists will not be defeated by resolutions or statements alone. There are three specific issue which face us immediately: the activity of the right in the colleges, the campaign against the reactionary anti-abortion group, SPUC [the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children), and the fight against racism. The other groups of the left rejected joint action around these issues. But it is only by such joint mobilisations, by confronting the right wing head-on, that the fascists and racists will be routed.

The LSE branch of the International Socialists put together a newsletter called The Red Agitator which stated that they believed that the policy was ‘fundamentally correct’, but took issue with the lumping together of racists and fascists in the resolution as there was a difference in approach to fascists and those in the mainstream who promoted racist ideas. The IS raised the point of the racist claims made by the psychologist Hans Eysenck who toured universities in the early 1970s, espousing the idea that there were significant differences in mental capacity between the races. Eysenck was a racist, but not a fascist, and the IS suggested approaching his meetings in a slightly different way than the employment of the ‘no platform’ strategy:

To debate with Eysenck, to treat him as a genuine scientist, is thus to indirectly legitimise Powellism. This is not to say that we should go out to break up meetings which he addresses – the real threat lies in organised fascist groups – but rather that we should picket them and organise counter-meetings in order to show up the real nature of his ideas.

But dealing with the openly fascist NF, the IS agreed with the IMG. The Red Agitator newsletter finished with this:

The racists and fascists of today are not something that we can ignore. They are a growing menace. The liberties we have today are worth defending, small though they are. Fascism aims to smash, racism creates the conditions for their destruction. We cannot allow the open fascist, or the concealed fascist working in the Monday Club or some similar organisation to gain a hearing. Every meeting that they hold gives them confidence. Every apologist for racism lends them comfort. Every liberal who debates with them gives them aid – much against their will.

Every time they are stopped from meeting, every time their meetings are broke up, their task becomes harder and harder. The moral of the fascists fall. People turn away from them as a miserable and pathetic group with nothing to offer. Every success that we have demonstrates to the waverers that we are a better solution. That is the only way to fight fascism and racism.

The Communist Party’s National Student Organiser Dave Cook also took exception with the broad nature of the ‘no platform’ resolution devised by the NUS. Cook, writing in the CPGB’s Morning Star, argued that the second part of the resolution calling for the prevention of those speaking who espoused ‘similar views’ by any means necessary endangered support for the NUS policy because of its broad interpretation and could have potentially isolated the more moderate and centrist elements in the NUS. Cook proposed that there should not be all-applying response set at the national level, but allow each individual student council to decide whether to implement the policy of ‘no platform’. Like the Party’s wider anti-fascist strategy in the 1970s, Cook also warned against the vanguardist approach of breaking up meetings by a minority of students, writing ‘It is important that direct action does not become a substitute for the often more difficult task of winning the majority.’

In the Party’s internal documents, the broad and all-applying response of ‘no platform’ was criticised further. The Communist Party was particularly concerned with making the distinction between the fascism of the National Front and the racism of the Conservatives (and other right-wing groups), which nonetheless operated within a democratic framework. The Political Committee stated:

It is important to state from the start that the resolution is not a threat to the right of the Tory party to politically operate in the colleges. The resolution clearly and correctly differentiates between the expression of a Conservative viewpoint and organisations whose declared objective is racist. This is not to say that racism is an attitude that stops at the boundaries of the Conservative Party. On the contrary. Certain Tory leaders are more potent symbols of racism than anyone in the National Front… However it id important to draw the distinction between individual Tory racists, and organisations that are part of the Tory party like the Monday Club on one hand; and organisations whose declared objective is to further race hatred on the other – not because our opposition to them is any less intense, but because they are often best fought in different ways. It is so that it can more effectively fight them that NUS policy must hinge on this distinction. (‘The Fight Against Racism and Fascism, 22 May, 1974, CP/CENT/PC/13/05, LHASC)

The Party also felt that the resolution could be used to enact the ‘no platform’ policy against individuals, rather than organised fascist groups, and that this went past necessary anti-fascist activism and contravened the idea of ‘free speech’. Another internal document made this clear:

No matter how nauseous we find the views of individuals who are not members of such [fascist] organisations, e.g. [Hans] Eysenck and [William] Shockley; or the views of the right wing of the Tory Party, e.g. the Monday Club; the fact is that both of these differ significantly from organisations whose aims is declaredly fascist. (‘The Fight Against Racism and Fascism, n.d., CP/CENT/PC/13/05, LHASC)

While the NUS resolution, as well as the IMG and the IS, all saw the Monday Club to resemble a proto-fascist organisation that should be barred from meeting and organising on university campuses, the CPGB stressed that the Monday Club (from which there was a conveyer belt of recruitment into the NF in the early 1970s) was merely a group within the Conservatives and thus should be allowed to organise publicly.

Furthermore, the CPGB was worried that the phrase ‘by any means necessary’ could be interpreted in a number of ways and was concerned about physical violence at public events involving sections of the non-fascist right wing, such as Eysenck’s university tours. This had already occurred the previous year when the tiny Maoist group the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) (featuring the future leader of the Workers Institute for Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, Comrade Bala) broke up a presentation by Eysenck at the LSE.

The resolution was heavily criticised in the mainstream media, with even The Guardian’s John Fairhall describing the move as a denial of free speech, voted for by student ‘under the spell of Mr Parry’s oratory’ (April 9, 1974). Fairhall predicted that ‘[t]rouble and violence seem inevitable’ and warned:

Students should perhaps remember that frustration which leads to a denial of the right of one section of society is not something new. It is classic pattern of fascism.

Parry replied in a latter to the newspaper (April 16), arguing:

Our members overseas have been singled out for abuse, threats and outright economic attack by powerful extreme right-wingers during the time of the last Government. All our conference agreed was that at least they should not be subject to that abuse in our own student union.

Parry further addressed his critics in the press in an article in the journal Labour Monthly (June 1974) which had been run since the 1920s by CPGB stalwart, R. Palme Dutt. Unlike the position taken by Dave Cook, Parry saw the Monday Club and the National Front as very similar and posed the question, ‘What is the difference between the ideologies of the National Front and the Nazi party?’ Responding to the claim that the notion of ‘no platform’ put restrictions on ‘free speech’, Parry answered at length:

One must accept that to deny racists and fascists a platform is to ‘limit freedom of speech’ but one cannot see this freedom as something which exists in the abstract. It is a freedom which is already limited by such laws as the Race Relations Act and the law of libel, and must also be seen in the context of a class society in Britain which limits the freedom of speech for the vast majority of people… In refusing to assist the spread of racism the NUS is fighting for a freedom of even greater importance: the freedom to live without discrimination on the basis of race. It is only in relation to reality that principles of freedom can be seen. It is not an abstract intellectual exercise.

Because of the controversial nature of this resolution, the NUS held a special emergency conference in London on 15 June, 1974. This was the same day that the NF attempted to hold a meeting at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square and a counter-demonstration was held by Liberation and other anti-fascists, including the IMG. The resulting melee between anti-fascists and the police led to the death of Warwick University student Kevin Gately.

At the June conference, the debate was over the application of resolution. Dave Cook, writing again in Morning Star (21 June, 1974), said that the IMG and the IS wanted to maintain the resolution as it was passed, ‘which dictated a common response to all racist and fascist organisations in all situations’. The Communist-affiliated Broad Left group opposed this arguing that ‘the best way to implement national policy was for decisions to be made by each individual union in accordance with its local situation’. Put to a vote, the amendment suggested by Broad Left failed to get over the line and the resolution remained as it was, despite the Federation of Conservative Students seeking the opportunity to defeat the resolution in its entirety. But the death of Gately at an anti-fascist demonstration bolstered the argument made by the Trotskyist groups – if fascism was not countered ‘by any means necessary’, then people on the left were to become targets of violence.

By this time, the National Front were starting change tactics. For most of the early 1970s, the NF had played up its ‘respectability’ and tried to attract disaffected Tory voters (and members) who were anti-immigrant, pro-empire and anti-Common Market. ‘No platform’ was probably at its most controversial, but also very necessary, during this period, when a determined anti-fascist movement was needed to break the respectable veneer that the NF was putting forward while trying to woo the Tory right.

It reached its highest membership during this period and concentrated on electoral politics. The NF continued to contest elections from 1974 to 1977, but switched to an attempt to siphon off right-leaning Labour voters. However the small electoral fortunes of the NF kickstarted the anti-fascist movement against them and the years from 1977 to 1979 saw increasing confrontation between the NF and anti-fascists on the streets. By the late 1970s, the idea of ‘no platform’ seemed fairly straightforward – occupy the streets and the places where the NF seek to publicly assemble. Colin Sparks, from the SWP, explained in a 1978 pamphlet, Fascism and the National Front:

We do not engage in this sort of activity because we like violence or because the NF are reactionary. There are many other reactionary organisations around, for instance the Tory Party, which we do not attempt to smash up. The National Front differs from the Tories because their aims are precisely to control the streets, to build a mass fighting movement. In this, they need the marches and rallies. (p. 41)

The Communist Party, which was largely critical of the SWP’s ‘adventurist’ approach, also recognised the need to confront the NF, but argued that this needed to be done on a mass scale. But they also advocated using the Race Relations Act to combat the NF and their ‘claim to have a democratic right to flaunt their racism’. In the 1978 pamphlet, A Knife at the Throat of Us All, Dave Cook, now the CPGB’s National Organiser, wrote:

Communists support, and will defend to the utmost, the right of people to freely speak their mind. But to attack people because they are black is not a political argument. People form their political views on the basis of conviction. They are born with their colour. That is why to attack someone because of his or her race is to attack that person as a human being. Their political views can change, colour cannot.

To permit the NF the ‘freedom’ to be anti-human can end up destroying the freedom of us all. That is why incitement to racial hatred must have no place in a civilised society. (p. 28)

Even the Labour Party accepted a form of ‘no platform’ for the National Front, when the Party’s National Executive Committee in 1978 declared:

Labour candidates should not share platforms at meetings or appear on constituency programmes on radio or television with candidates or other members of the National Front.

Despite the original NUS resolution targeting specifically openly fascist and racist organisations, such as the NF and (perhaps controversially) the Monday Club, there were fears that the policy could widened to be used against any political organisation and individual that fell foul of the NUS leadership. In their 1974 pamphlet, Fascism: How to Smash It, the IMG gave instances where ‘no platform’ had been applied to political ‘enemies’ who were not fascists:

Racists like Powell or Harold Soref – who are not fascists – have often been driven off university campuses. This is because the effect these people can have is similar to fascists – that is, terrorising black people or others chosen as scapegoats for capitalism’s social ills, and encouraging social violence, legal or otherwise, against them…

‘No Platform’ has been applied to many people by the workers’ movement. Trade unionists, for example, would generally expel employees who attended their meetings. Print workers sometimes censor by blacking a newspaper editorial attacking the unions. When Mr. Godber, Tory Minister for Agriculture, [was] sent to Birmingham one day last year to do a public relations job for Tory price policy, he was mobbed off the street by angry housewives. All these actions are against ‘free speech’ and sometimes involve a physical struggle.

Throughout the 1970s, the ‘no platform’ policy was challenged at the NUS annual conference. At the 1977 conference, concerns were raised about demonstrations against Sir Keith Joseph speaking at Essex University. In The Guardian (March 23, 1977), John Fairhall wrote that the NUS Executive Committee felt that actions, such as the one against Joseph, were ‘against the interest of the union, and damage an anti-racialism campaign’. Alan Elsner, a member of the Union of Jewish Students, wrote in the New Statesman (May 13, 1977) that the Joseph incident ‘heightened the fear that “no platform” policy could be used as a means of silencing people whose views might be controversial or unpopular’. Elsner also raised the controversy over the use of ‘no platform’ against organisations that were explicitly Zionist or supporters of Israel.

Fairhall reported that some on the NUS Executive Committee wanted to change the policy from ‘no platform’ to ‘no invitation’, allegedly supported by the Communists in the Broad Left coalition, but this was defeated, 182,333 to 154,033 (with 33,948 abstentions) (The Guardian, April 1, 1977). Future Labour MP Charles Clarke was, at the time, NUS President and a member of the Broad Left, but after the vote, defined the existing policy of ‘no platform’ as:

A student union would do anything it could physically – such as picketing and demonstrating – to prevent people whom the student union decided by a general meeting vote were racists or fascists from speaking on a campus. But prevention would stop short of violence.

The Times’ Ian Bradley stated that the policy was dropped by the NUS in December 1977 but reinstated at the 1978 NUS conference just four months later (April 7, 1978). Although the moderate NUS leadership opposed it, the far left, including the National Organisation of Labour Students, managed to get the policy reinstated. Trevor Phillips, the incoming NUS President and who was personally against the policy, maintained that the policy would be used against the National Front, but ‘would oppose any attempt to use it against Mrs Thatcher or other members of major political parties’. The outgoing NUS President, Susan Slipman added, ‘The new policy will not mean the infringement of the democratic right of any members and it will definitely not mean reraising the question of banning Jewish student organisations.’

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By 1979, the NF had fallen into disarray, marginalised by the growing anti-fascist movement from one side and by the right-wing shift of the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher from the other. However the ‘no platform’ policy was maintained and many would argue, succumbed to the newly developed interest in ‘identity politics’. Writing in Socialist Worker Review in 1986, Lindsey German said:

the policy often means little in confronting racism and sexism on more than an individual level. But what is more, it broadens the definition of no platform to an almost unworkable degree. The original no platform went for stopping organised fascists and racists, because their organisation was such a threat. That is not the case with individual members of the rugby club, however noxious they might be. Those people have to be defeated politically, in open and hopefully large union meetings.

German defended the policy, but argued that it needed to be limited to its original intent – against the National Front and other fascist organisations, such as the emerging British National Party. She warned that there were two things that were to be avoided if the NUS was to maintain the policy:

The first is to widen the policy far too far, and therefore allow the right wing to make capital from particular issues. The second is to get trapped into allowing the right to pose as defenders of free speech. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It seems that student activists at British universities have not heeded German’s warning and that the strategy of ‘no platform’ employed against political opponents far removed from the original targets, the organised fascist far right. ‘No platform’ was developed as a specific tactic to prevent the encroachment of the National Front (and the Monday Club) onto university campuses in the mid-1970s. However it seems that almost from the time of its implementation, it has been open to misinterpretation and abuse by certain student groups. This post has sought to show that before it became a widely used tactic by various student groups, ‘no platform’ had a discreet and specific context to be used in an explicitly anti-fascist framework. Contemporary discussions in the media of the tactic often ignore this origin story, but do so at their own peril.

Integration and limitation: Labour and immigration, 1962-68

Last night, Channel 4 aired a program on the 1964 election in the seat of Smethwick, where immigration became a controversial topic and was used to reason why Labour lost a safe seat to the Conservatives. I have written about the use of a racist slogan during the election campaign before (here and here), but this post gives a wider context for the changing political landscape at the time and why the Smethwick election had a long-lasting impact the Labour Party. It is based on an extract from our book Race, Gender and the Body in British Immigration Control, which came out last year.

Throughout the 1950s, the official position of the Labour Party on immigration control was one of consistent opposition. When the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill was debated in Parliament in November 1961, the Labour Party opposed it on the same grounds it had presented in 1958. Gordon Walker, Labour MP for Smethwick, contended that the Conservative Home Secretary R. A. Butler ‘advocates a Bill into which race discrimination is now written – not only into its spirit and practice but into its very letter’.[1] Labour’s opposition to the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was based on both political and economic arguments.[2]

Politically, the Labour Party favoured a more benevolent British Commonwealth and defended the right of free entry for Commonwealth citizens, attacking the Conservatives for ‘having rejected the Commonwealth’ and what it supposed were ‘the principles on which it was founded’.[3] The Labour Party opposed the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill on the principle that it was racially biased, and ‘consistently accused the government of implementing racism’.[4] During the Bill’s second reading, Walker declared that Labour would ‘bitterly oppose the Bill and will resist it’ as it was ‘widely and rightly regarded as introducing a colour bar into our legislation’.[5] Labour’s economic argument was that the flow of migration had been regulated by the demands of the British economy, with leader Hugh Gaitskell stating that ‘the rate of immigrants into this country is closely related and … will always be closely related, to the rate of economic absorption’.[6] As Gaitskell explained, throughout the 1950s until 1959, there was ‘an almost precise correlation between the movement in the number of unfulfilled vacancies … and the immigration figures’.[7]

Some authors, in particular Paul Foot and Peter Alexander, have emphasised the principled opposition of Gaitskell, as leader of the Labour Party, who presented an official, unified, formal position on the concept of immigration control for Labour.[8] Foot wrote that Gaitskell understood ‘much better than his colleagues the general principles behind the international migration of labour’, and believed in the British Commonwealth as a ‘world-wide multi-racial community network’.[9] In Parliament, Gaitskell declared that the Bill was ‘a plain anti-Commonwealth Measure in theory and … a plain anti-colour Measure in practice’[10], and Denis Healey, Labour’s spokesperson on colonial issues, pledged at a meeting of immigrant and Commonwealth organisations that a Labour government would repeal the Act if elected.[11]

However, the Labour Party’s official position changed soon after Gaitskell’s death in early 1963, when Harold Wilson became leader of the party. Whereas previously Labour’s opposition to immigration control had been officially ‘unconditional’, now Wilson claimed that the party ‘supported and … do support certain provisions of the Act’.[12] Wilson announced that ‘[w]e do not contest the need for control of immigration into this country’ and accepted the continuation of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act.[13]

Wilson’s statement that Labour accepted the concept of immigration control was the beginning of a growing consensus between the two major parties that non-white immigration from the Commonwealth was a problem. The defeat of Labour MP Gordon Walker to Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths, primarily fought on the issue of immigration, made many within the Labour Party move towards an acceptance of strict immigration controls, believing that opposition to controls could be cited by the Conservatives as a sign of Labour’s weakness. Griffiths used the issue of immigration, supported by the Conservative Association, local anti-immigration advocates and fascist groups, to disrupt the traditional support for the Labour Party in Smethwick. The most notorious and infamous aspect of this campaign was the slogan, ‘If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour’, about which Griffiths commented, ‘I would not condemn anyone who said that. I regard it as a manifestation of popular feeling’.[14] The Labour Party’s interpretation of the loss of Smethwick (a loss of 7.2 per cent against an average swing across the nation to Labour of 3.5 per cent)[15] was, according to Labour Minister Richard Crossman, that ‘[e]ver since the Smethwick election it has been quite clear that immigration can be the greatest potential vote-loser for the Labour Party’.[16]

Despite the official front, the Labour Party had been internally divided on the issue of immigration for many years. The official position on unconditional right of entry had seemingly only been held together by the leadership qualities of Hugh Gaitskell.[17] The notion of the Labour Party yielding in the face of racist public opinion has been well documented in the history of race relations in Britain. Yet, as Kathleen Paul has observed, the concept of a ‘hostile public push[ing] an otherwise liberal administration toward ever greater “immigration” control’ is the ‘picture presented by policy makers themselves’.[18] Both Labour and the Conservatives had adopted unofficial means to prevent Commonwealth immigration into Britain in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. While the traditional history views the Smethwick result as impetus for Labour’s acceptance of restrictions upon non-white Commonwealth immigration, Kathleen Paul’s assertion that these measures were ‘driven not by the explosion of “race and immigration” into the electoral arena but by imperatives internal to the governing elite’ is far more convincing.[19]

In March 1965, Wilson stated that the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was ‘not working as was intended’, recommending that ‘a fresh examination of the whole problem of control is necessary’.[20] The result of this re-examination of immigration policy was the White Paper Immigration from the Commonwealth, published in August 1965. The White Paper suggested that the problem involved how to ‘control the entry of immigrants so that it does not outrun Britain’s capacity to absorb them’.[21] The emphasis of the Labour government’s platform on immigration during this period was on the notions of ‘integration’ and ‘absorption’ of Commonwealth immigrants, but the government believed that integration could not occur without immigration controls. Labour MP Roy Hattersley summarised this by declaring that, ‘without integration, limitation is inexcusable; without limitation, integration is impossible’.[22] To this end, the White Paper made two main proposals: the discontinuation of the Category C vouchers and a large reduction in the number of vouchers issued.[23] Category C vouchers had been the most issued voucher since their introduction, with 42,367 issued between July 1962 and September 1964.[24] More importantly, the total number of vouchers was to be reduced from around 20,000 a year to just 8500 a year, with 1000 reserved for citizens of Malta and ‘not more than 15 per cent of the vouchers issued in Category A will go to any one Commonwealth country’.[25] Effectively this meant that Old Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, which had fairly small populations, were entitled to the same number of vouchers as the more populous Commonwealth countries like India and Pakistan. Regarding the Labour government’s fears of ‘evasion’ of control, the Paper also proposed stronger powers for Immigration Officers to refuse entry to those who were not considered ‘bona fides’.[26]

The result of the White Paper’s release was that consensus was reached within government circles that Commonwealth immigration was undesirable and threatened social cohesion in Britain. As Roy Hattersley stated in Parliament in March 1965, ‘I believe that unrestricted immigration can only produce additional problems, additional suffering and additional hardship unless some kind of limitation is imposed and continued’.[27] Previously speaking as ‘a passionate opponent of the Act’, Hattersley came claimed in 1965 that, ‘with the advantages of hindsight, I suspect that we were wrong to oppose the Act’.[28]

The Labour government’s policy of integration featured heavily in the White Paper, which recommended the implementation of tighter restrictions on Commonwealth immigration while tackling racial discrimination in the domestic sphere. This led to the introduction of the first legislation against racial discrimination in late 1965 to ‘complement’ the White Paper. The Race Relations Act 1965 was introduced to ‘prohibit discrimination on racial grounds in places of public resort’ and was enacted in November 1965[29], but was a much weaker Act than had been proposed by MPs such as Fenner Brockway since the mid-1950s. While reservedly welcomed by both progressive and immigrant organisations, the Race Relations Act was inherently tied to the notions of integration and restriction. As Dilip Hiro wrote:

Taken together, the 1965 White Paper and the 1965 Race Relations Act signalled the convergence of the two major political parties on the issues of immigration control and racial justice. An advance, albeit minor, on the front for ethnic minorities was conceded by the Conservatives in exchange for a retreat by Labour in the matter of immigration restrictions.[30]

The Labour government believed that immigration control and the Race Relations Act would ease the process of integration for non-white immigrants from the Commonwealth into the ‘British way of life’. This process of integration, reinforced by legislation against the most overt forms of public racial discrimination, would help ‘stamp out the evils of racialism’.[31] As Peter Alexander wrote, ‘[i]mmigration control was expected to reduce racism. The reverse happened. And with increased racism came further controls’.[32]

While the number of colonial migrants on work vouchers decreased through the mid-1960s, other colonial migrants (on British passports issued overseas) started to increase in numbers, especially after Kenya won independence in 1963. This point in time symbolises the beginning of an ‘Africanisation’ campaign that ‘prompted many [Kenyan South Asians] to migrate to Britain rather than face continued discrimination’ in Kenya.[33] A ‘steady flow’ of Kenyan South Asians migrated to Britain between 1965 and 1967. In 1967, the Kenyan Government passed a law under which these British citizens of South Asian descent could reside and work in Kenya only on a temporary basis. This created an increase in migration to Britain and prompted demands from sections of the media and Conservative MPs, such as Enoch Powell, that restrictions be applied to these Kenyan South Asians.[34] Powell claimed that the number of South Asians arriving from Kenya would reach a total of 200,000, but the reality was a much smaller 66,000 out of a potential 95,000, with 29,000 already settled in Britain by February 1968.[35] In late February 1968, the Labour government ‘steamrollered through Parliament in three days of emergency debate’ the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 with the ‘sole purpose of restricting entry into Britain of Kenyan Asians holding British passports’.[36] According to this Act, British citizenship was determined by the birth of a person or of one of their parents or grandparents in Britain. This effectively excluded the Kenyan South Asians, or any other non-white citizens of the Commonwealth, from British citizenship. Despite the rhetoric that the 1968 Act was impartial and not racially biased, the reality underpinning this amendment was the Labour government’s intention to prevent further non-white immigration to Britain.

Zig Layton-Henry described the 1968 Act as the ‘logical outcome of appeasement that the Labour government had adopted in order to achieve the bipartisan consensus with the Conservatives and to reduce the electoral salience of the issue’.[37] However, this was more than merely a pragmatic issue of Labour attempting to not appear ‘weaker than the Conservatives on the issue of immigration controls’,[38] but was the result of a deeper reassessment of the idea of British nationality as Britain’s colonial empire collapsed. White British citizens born abroad were ‘never referred to as “immigrants” under any circumstances’. The term ‘immigrant’ was reserved for non-white Commonwealth migrants, and by the late 1960s the equation of ‘immigrant’ with ‘black’ had become the prevailing attitude.[39] The Labour Party had originally opposed immigration controls on the grounds of the ideal of the free movement of people and trade throughout the Commonwealth. However, the right to enter and live in Britain without restriction did not mean that Commonwealth immigrants were ‘regarded as British in any other sense’.[40] For Labour, the ‘Commonwealth ideal had never been intended as a defence of [unrestricted] black immigration to Britain’. And, as Caroline Knowles has stated, the increasingly tougher controls on immigration seen in the 1960s demonstrated that Labour ‘reconstructed immigration away from Commonwealth and labour needs’, perceiving immigrants as ‘an invasive and oppositional political community to indigenousness’.[41]

In 1968, Robert Moore wrote that ‘[r]acialists have nothing to lose and everything to gain by pressing the Labour Government even harder’.[42] The long-term effect of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 was to create a distinction between the predominantly white British citizenry who could claim lineage within Britain and the predominantly non-white Commonwealth citizenry who could no longer claim to be ‘British’, which in turn barred the Commonwealth immigrant from entering Britain. In this we can trace the beginning of the double standard citizenship rule which divides ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ migrants according to country of origin.

 

Opposition to the 1962 Bill (via National Archives UK)

Opposition to the 1962 Bill (via National Archives UK)

[1] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 706.

[2] Robert Miles & Annie Phizacklea, White Man’s Country: Racism in British Politics (Pluto Press, London, 1984) p. 42.

[3] Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 42.

[4] Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 42.

[5] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 1716

[6] Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 42; Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 793-794.

[7] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 794; R. Miles & A. Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 42.

[8] Paul Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1965) pp. 174-175; Peter Alexander, Racism, Resistance and Revolution (Bookmarks, London, 1987) pp. 34-35.

[9] Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, p. 175.

[10] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 799.

[11] Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, p. 173; Marika Sherwood, Claudia Jones: A Life in Exile (Londo,: Lawrence & Wishart, 1999) p. 99.

[12] Cited in Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, p. 170; Hansard, 27 November, 1963, col. 365.

[13] Hansard, 27 November, 1963, col. 367.

[14] Cited in Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 49.

[15] Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 50.

[16] Richard Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, vol. 1: Minister of Housing 1964-66 (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1975) pp. 149-150.

[17] See Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, pp. 161-175.

[18] Kathleen Paul, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era (Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1997) p. 177.

[19] Paul, Whitewashing Britain, pp. 177-178.

[20] Hansard, 9 March, 1965, col. 249.

[21] Immigration from the Commonwealth, Cmnd. 2739, HMSO, London, 1965, p. 2.

[22] Cited in Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 57.

[23] Immigration from the Commonwealth, p. 6.

[24] Figures calculated from Control of Immigration Statistics 1 July 1962 – 31 December 1963, HMSO, London, 1965, pp. 15-16; Control of Immigration Statistics 1964, HMSO, London, 1965, p. 11.

[25] Immigration from the Commonwealth, p. 6.

[26] Immigration from the Commonwealth, p. 8.

[27] Hansard, 23 March, 1965, col. 380-381.

[28] Hansard, 23 March, 1965, col. 380.

[29] Race Relations Act, 1965 .

[30] Dilip Hiro, Black British, White British: A History of Race Relations in Britain (London, Paladin, 1992) p. 211.

[31] David Ennals, ‘Labour’s Race Relations Policy’, Institute of Race Relations Newsletter, November/December 1968, p. 437.

[32] Alexander, Racism, Resistance and Revolution, p. 34.

[33] Paul, Whitewashing Britain, p. 179.

[34] John Solomos, Race and Racism in Britain (Palgrave, Houndmills, 2003) p. 60; D. Hiro, Black British, White British, p. 213.

[35] Alexander, Racism, Resistance and Revolution, p. 36; D. Hiro, Black British, White British, p. 214.

[36] Fryer, Staying Power, p. 383.

[37] Zig Layton-Henry, The Politics of Immigration: Immigration, ‘Race’ and ‘Race’ Relations in Post-War Britain (Blackwell, Oxford, 1992) p. 79.

[38] Layton-Henry, The Politics of Immigration, p. 79.

[39] Ann Dummett & Andrew Nicol, Subjects, Citizens, Aliens and Others: Nationality and Immigration Law (London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1990) p. 201.

[40] Caroline Knowles, Race, Discourse and Labourism (London, Routledge, 1992) p. 94.

[41] Knowles, Race, Discourse and Labourism, p. 96, 103.

[42] Robert Moore, ‘Labour and Colour – 1965-8’, Institute of Race Relations Newsletter, October 1968, p. 390.

Enoch Powell and the immigration “challenge” to Thatcher (1985)

Thatcher and Powell in 'happier' times at the 1969 Conservative Party conference

Thatcher and Powell in ‘happier’ times at the 1969 Conservative Party conference

In the file on the Scarman Report and the 1985 Handsworth riots that has been recently released by the National Archives, there is a series of documents concerning a challenge made by Enoch Powell to Margaret Thatcher to clarify her position on immigration. Speaking to the Birkenhead Conservative Women’s Association in September 1985 (two weeks after the Handsworth riots), Powell declared:

What sort of country will Britain be when the capital city and major cities and areas of England consist of a population of which at least one-third is of African or Asian descent?…

My answer, upon my maturely considered judgment, is it will be a Britain unimaginably wracked by dissension and violent disorder, not recognisable as the same nation as it has been, or perhaps as a national at all. Let those in positions of responsibility who disagree with my judgment declare their own in equally unequivocal terms.

If the Prime Minister of this country holds a different judgment – I am not sure that she does – let her publicly say one of two things. She can say: “Mr Powell’s figures and his picture of the factual future are substantially right, but I believe it will be a happy and peaceful Britain, which we and I shall be proud to bequeath to the next generation”.

Alternatively she can say: “Mr Powell’s figures and picture are mistaken: the true population proportions will be lower”. If she says that, however, she cannot stop there. She must tell the country what she believes those lower proportions will be and why; and having done so she can then, if she wishes, go on to make the same asseveration about a happy and united Britain.

The time of truth is coming at last for those who sit in the seats of authority… The nation will insist upon knowing what they intend to do.

Thatcher’s Chief Press Secretary, Bernard Ingham, wrote a memo to the Prime Minister, warning her not to be drawn in by Powell’s challenge:

It seems likely the press will ask you to react but there are dangers in doing so on this scanty basis. I would refuse to be drawn.

From documents published by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, we know that the press asked Thatcher about Powell’s comments at a press conference in Aqaba, Jordan, the same day:

Question

To change the subject for a moment, Prime Minister, you may be aware that in England today Mr. Enoch Powell has spoken following the Handsworth riot and he has suggested that the African and Asian population of Britain should be reduced by a Government programme of repatriation. Do you regard that as a helpful or unhelpful statement at this time?

Prime Minister

I have heard that Mr. Powell either has or is going to make a speech. I do not know what he said and should not dream of commenting on a speech I have not seen

This was not the first time that Thatcher had been quizzed by the press about crossover between her ideas about immigration and Enoch Powell’s. Since becoming leader of the Conservatives in 1975, the spectre of Powell had lingered over Thatcher and many scholars have emphasised the continuities between Powellism and Thatcherism. Probably the best known example of Powell’s idea about immigration (also expressed by the National Front) and the challenge they presented for Thatcher was the 1978 interview with Granada TV’s World in Action. Thatcher was asked about overlap between herself and Powell and herself and the National Front. She infamously answered:

I shall not make it a major election issue but I think there is a feeling that the big political parties have not been talking about this and sometimes, you know, we are falsely accused of racial prejudice. I say “falsely accused” and that means that we do not talk about it perhaps as much as we should. In my view, that is one thing that is driving some people to the National Front. They do not agree with the objectives of the National Front, but they say that at least they are talking about some of the problems. Now, we are a big political party. If we do not want people to go to extremes, and I do not, we ourselves must talk about this problem and we must show that we are prepared to deal with it. We are a British nation with British characteristics. Every country can take some small minorities and in many ways they add to the richness and variety of this country. The moment the minority threatens to become a big one, people get frightened…

And on the similarities between the Tories under herself and Powell, Thatcher said this (but did not say that she didn’t agree with Powell ideologically):

Mr Powell is an Ulster Unionist. In Ulster there is no Conservative Party; it is the Ulster Unionist Party and the question therefore is whether the Ulster Unionists would get closer to the Conservative Party. When I first came into Parliament in 1959 they took the Conservative Whip—you are familiar with the phrase —Conservative and Ulster Unionists went to the same back-benchers’ committees and tended to vote together. Then, as you know, there were differences and they have not. So, it is not a question of Mr Powell being Conservative. There is no Conservative Party in Ulster; it is the Ulster Unionist Party. It may well be that their views on the main things in politics are far closer to ours than to socialism and that, I think, is going to be the ultimate question at the next election.

But while Powell and Thatcher had similarities in their ideological outlook on many key issues, Powell was still a political liability and Thatcher dismissed (at least in public) any suggestions that Powell could be re-incorporated into the Conservative Party. Powell occupied a space on the political right in between the Conservatives and the fascist far right of the National Front and was able to vocalise many of the new right’s frustrations with the parliamentary Tory party. But as an MP for the Ulster Unionist Party, Powell was unable to capitalise upon the apparent popularity of his opinions and after the downfall of the NF at the 1979 general election, the right-wing vote had nowhere to go but to the Tories.

This seems very different from the challenge that Nigel Farage and UKIP present to David Cameron and the Conservatives in 2015. The media fascination and the apparent momentum that UKIP seem to currently enjoy means that Cameron cannot simply publicly dismiss Farage in the same way that Thatcher publicly ignored Powell. Maybe the archival documents released in 2035 will tell us more…