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Enoch Powell: Rivers of Blood legacy debated at Wolverhampton Literature Festival

It was a controversial debate which divided opinion across the audience.

The panel for the Express & Star's Enoch Powell debate
The panel for the Express & Star's Enoch Powell debate

But tensions remained calm as more than 150 people united to discuss Enoch Powell’s legacy.

People from across the region packed into the University of Wolverhampton lecture theatre to hear a five-strong panel discuss the former Wolverhampton MP’s notorious Rivers of Blood speech.

The debate, hosted by the Express & Star on Saturday, marked 50 years since the politician turned the spotlight on the region with his words.

  • See how the debate unfolded with our live updates below

Panel members included Express & Star columnist Nigel Hastilow, Labour city councillor and former mayor Milkinder Jaspal, journalist and political commentator Nick Jones and ex-Conservative Wolverhampton South West MP Paul Uppal.

Left to right: Nigel Hastilow, Paul Uppal, Keith Harrison, Milkinder Jaspal and Nick Jones

As issues of race and immigration were thrown into the discussion, Mr Uppal poignantly touched on his Sikh heritage and said: “The UK is actually the best place for somebody to live if you look like me.

“It is wonderfully tolerant. The only people that don’t seem to know that is the British themselves.”

Express & Star readers proposed more than 100 questions for the panel, with a selection put to the special guests during the 90-minute event.

Journalist Nick Jones, whose father edited the Express & Star and knew Enoch Powell well

When asked if a blue plaque commemorating Powell should feature in the city, Mr Hastilow showed his support for the idea.

Mr Hastilow - who was sacked as a Conservative Party candidate in the 2007 election after writing a column which included the statement ‘Enoch Powell was right’ - said: “People of significance in history, whether you agree with them or disagree, should be remembered.

“Powell is arguably one of the greatest politician of the last century.”

But his views were not shared by fellow panel members Mr Uppal and Councillor Jaspal who both said a blue plaque would not be welcomed.

Paul Uppal, who was an MP in Enoch Powell's old seat of Wolverhampton South West

The question was then put to audience members, who overwhelmingly showed opposition to a blue plaque in Wolverhampton.

Another question quizzed panel members on whether the nation would back Powell today - a poll in 1968 found 74 percent of the population agreed with his comments.

Councillor Jaspal replied: “The speech was really about race, immigration is different. I wouldn’t imagine people supporting his views today.”

But Mr Jones - who has written extensively about his father and former Express & Star editor Clem Jones’ relationship with Powell - claimed between 30 and 40 per cent of the population would ‘still say that Powell was right’.

Express & Star columnist Nigel Hastilow

Mr Hastilow told the audience he did not see ‘anything very positive’ about Powell’s speech when asked about benefits of the controversial speech.

Mr Uppal added: “I think in terms of the impact of the speech it certainly put the focus on race relations in the UK.

“I think Powell made the speech because he was very much aware that his real fear was a fear of communalism.

Wolverhampton councillor and former mayor Milkinder Jaspal, with Express & Star editor Keith Harrison

“He was very conscious of the fact that he thought, inevitably, in terms of immigration, eventually there would be a division.

“I think when he made this speech, he made it quite deliberately, he wanted to be prime minister.”

UKIP MEP and Dudley councillor Bill Etheridge, who echoed Powell’s words in his own controversial speech in November 2015, made a late appearance to the debate, missing his chance to feature on the panel as planned.

UKIP councillor and MEP Bill Etheridge watched from the audience after being held up

He later contributed to the discussion and said: “What Enoch Powell said, using the language he was using, was racist.”

But he went on to say the speech tackling uncontrolled immigration was ‘still relevant’ despite its racist undertones.

One reader wondered if the country could finally lay to rest the claim that Powell was right when he made the infamous speech, with Mr Jones replying: “Future generations will want to come and celebrate the fact that Wolverhampton was the place that went through great turmoil in the 60s.”

Around 150 people were in the audience for the debate

The debate at the university’s Millennium City Building came as part of the second Wolverhampton Literature Festival.

See how the debate at the University of Wolverhampton unfolded by scrolling through the updates below.

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