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BBC goes ahead with Rivers of Blood broadcast amid backlash

Pictured: Enoch Powell

THE BBC aired Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech in full on Radio 4 this evening, despite calls for the show to be pulled from programming.

The show, part of the Archive on 4 schedule, centred on a reenactment of Enoch Powell’s infamous speech on the “perils” of immigration, interspersed with commentary and reactions from a selection of contributors.

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the Supreme Court Brexit case, and journalist and author Sathnam Sanghera were among those who voiced criticism of Powell’s speech during the programme, which was presented by Amol Rajan, the BBC’s media editor. The speech was recited by actor Ian McDiarmid.

One commentator who originally took part in the show expressed her regret at doing so after seeing how the broadcaster was promoting it. Shirin Hirsch, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Wolverhampton, wrote on Twitter that she was “sick with worry since seeing the way this is being presented”.

Hirsch, whose research focuses on Enoch Powell, appears to have since deleted the tweet. Yesterday she told her followers that she would no longer be included in the programme.

Senior editor at Navaro Media Ash Sarkar also voiced her opposition to the programme.
“While the speech’s semicentennial will no doubt be marked by politicians of all stripes lining up to disavow Powell’s words, his rhetoric of racialised anxiety and demographic apocalypse continues to permeate every level of our culture, across the political spectrum,” she wrote in The Independent.

She added: “The steady rise of anti-immigrant xenophobia is perhaps testament to the idea that our parliament, with a handful of outliers, is stocked to the rafters with pound-shop Powells.”

This April marks 50 years since Powell delivered the speech in Birmingham to Conservative party members just two weeks after Martin Luther King’s assassination and as the 1968 race relations bill was going through Parliament.

Amid the debate over whether or not the speech should be broadcast, Sanghera said on Twitter: “Everyone needs to relax and listen to the show. The producers interviewed me for an hour about my views, and hopefully they will include my remarks that it was racist, cynical and disingenuous - in the words of @thetimes at time ‘an evil speech’.”

To counter the programming, people used Twitter to shared tweets and images depicting diversity and challenging the message of the speech accompanied by the hashtag rivers of love.

In a statement the BBC described the episode as a “rigorous journalistic analysis of a historical political speech”.

“It’s not an endorsement of the controversial views and people should wait to hear the programme before they judge it.”

Edward Heath, the Conservative party leader at the time sacked Powell, the then shadow defence secretary, 24 hours after he recited Rivers of Blood.

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