Enoch Powell
Enoch Powell left a lasting legacyWikiCommons

Describe Ukip's Nigel Farage as the heir to Enoch Powell and he would undoubtedly take it as a huge compliment.

Most mainstream politicians would not be so happy. The almost universal reluctance to publicly admit to even a mild affinity with the former Tory minister stems from his infamous 1968 "rivers of blood" speech and calls for voluntary repatriation of "coloured" immigrants, which led to his sacking and for which he will always be remembered.

While that single speech was a calculated attempt to influence immigration policy and may have betrayed latent racism, as many believe, there was clearly more to Powell than that, even if it was the defining flaw that led to his political demonization. And Farage echoes much of that.

Powell was fiercely opposed to British membership of the Common Market, the forerunner to the EU, was deeply nationalistic, even isolationist and anti-establishment.

He presented himself as an individualist, if not quite a maverick, displayed a huge level of self-belief and revelled in his habit of speaking his mind, driven by his intellectual certainties, and damn the consequences, which ultimately proved fatal.

It is easy to see, then, why Nigel Farage routinely declares Powell is his political hero. And, like his hero, he also believes he is wrongly smeared as a racist.

In an interview in 2008 he said: "I would never say that Powell was racist in any way at all. Had we listened to him, we would have much better race relations now than we have got."

A year later he told the Guardian: "Enoch Powell was an extraordinary fellow. I admired him for having the guts to talk about an issue that seemed to be to be really rather important – immigration, society, how do we want to live in this country."

Nigel Farage
Farage echoes many of Powell's viewsReuters

While Farage distanced himself from the more inflammatory element of the "rivers of blood" speech, it should have come as no surprise that he happily agreed with its central proposition.

But therein lies the problem and the reason why Farage truly is the heir to Powell. But not in the way he might wish.

Thanks to the calculated and inflammatory nature of Powell's speech the debate about immigration, which was conducted in a perfectly reasonable fashion elsewhere, was instantly shut down in the UK.

Far right, deeply racist and nationalistic groups adopted Powell as one of their own and routinely cited his apocalyptic vision as the fate awaiting the UK unless it stopped all immigration and repatriated those already here, voluntarily or otherwise

Politicians avoided the now-toxic issue for fear of being branded Powellite and/or racist (they became interchangeable), often with good reason but often not. Most mainstream politicians will now admit as much.

The upshot was not only to ignore some genuine concerns amongst specific sections of society but to allow more extreme elements to feed on and exaggerate fears to the point where rational, reasoned debate became increasingly impossible.

The fears festered and inevitably grew through lack of proper rebuttal. And into this walked the charismatic, straight-talking Farage who told people they were right to be afraid of Romanians living next door, added his own brand of inflammatory rhetoric, and presented himself as their saviour.

Reason, tolerance and, specifically, facts play no part in the debate Farage wants to have. He is all about exploiting and whipping up fear for electoral gain.

And that is the direct effect of Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech and why Nigel Farage is the result.

Ukip poster
Ukip have expolited fears of a wave of immigrants in its European Election campaignUkip