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Enoch Powell: Rally held in same hotel in defiance of Rivers of Blood speech - PICTURES and VIDEO

By Annabal Bagdi | Politics | Published:

'Enoch Powell was wrong'. Those were the words which constantly echoed across the same hotel where the former Wolverhampton MP delivered his infamous speech.

Rally Against Racism event hosted by, front, MP Ian Austin, with left to right, MP Eleanor Smith, Ravi Subramanian of Unison, MP Emma Reynolds, MP Preet Gill, Sunder Katwala of British Future, and MP Pat McFadden

But instead of dividing opinion on immigration as it did five decades ago, people from across the region united in defiance of his 'racist' Rivers of Blood speech on Thursday.

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Brought together by Dudley North MP Ian Austin, residents from different ethnic backgrounds 'celebrated' the diverse communities living within the West Midlands.

Opening the Labour rally at the historic Macdonald Burlington Hotel, which was the Midland Hotel when the speech was made in 1968, he said: "Enoch Powell made an utterly shameful and racist speech.

WATCH: Ian Austin speaks out over Powell's speech

Ian Austin gives talk at Enoch Powell debate

"He divided communities based on the colour of their skin. He wanted immigrants to leave the country.

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"He knew exactly what he was doing. It was a cynical attempt to rip up the worst prejudice.

"It was a terrible speech that had an awful impact in the Black Country."

Powell, who was the MP for Wolverhampton South West for 24 years, addressed an audience of Conservative members in the then Midland Hotel on April 20, 1968.

Rivers of Blood - Enoch Powell

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His speech warned of the so-called dangers of mass immigration and led to his sacking from the shadow cabinet.

It divided the nation prompting heated arguments, campaigns and protests.

Fifty years on, Wolverhampton's Civic and Historical Society received an application for a blue plaque marking Powell’s life.

Mr Austin told guests: "Instead of commemorating Enoch Powell with a blue plaque, I think we should be absolutely clear about how wrong he was, and we should be celebrating how much the region has improved.

"People have come here from all over the world. They have made huge contributions to our community.

"Diversity has strengthened our community and enriched this region.

"Following on from this great event, I will do everything I can to bring people together, to bring communities together."

MP Eleanor Smith, who holds Powell's former parliamentary seat, joined the 'Rally Against Racism' event.

Wolverhampton South West MP Eleanor Smith

She recalled her parents' humble beginnings after coming to the UK as one of the countless families asked to help rebuild Britain following the war.

Ms Smith, who was the first MP from an African Caribbean background to represent a constituency in the West Midlands, said: "It's very important that we come together to celebrate 50 years of that speech, that did not happen - his prophecy never came [true].

"He did not have and was not speaking for the majority people. He was speaking from a minority, we must remember that.

"There are generations who don't even know who he was - that's how insignificant he became. He belongs to the days of the past.

"Wolverhampton is a shining beacon on how cohesive communities can work together. I'm very happy to be an MP here and to have his seat."

Annabal Bagdi

By Annabal Bagdi
@AnnabalB_Star

Senior reporter based at Wolverhampton

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