Enoch Powell delivers a speech.Credit: Getty
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The problem with airing Enoch Powell’s speech isn’t that it was racist – it’s that it was wrong

British broadcasters are almost constitutionally incapable of covering unequivocal fact well.

The BBC has come under fire for their decision to air a reading of Enoch Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood” speech, as part of an Archive on 4 documentary on Radio 4. (Although Powell’s speech was not recorded in full, the actor Ian McDiarmud, who played him on stage in What Shadows but is most famous for his role as the Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars, will read it in the manner of Powell.)  It will be interspersed with commentary from “across the spectrum” on the issue.

One of the good things about British broadcasting is that it has a statutory requirement to be impartial, but the problem is that “impartiality” often means acting as if all opinions are equally valid, and that truth can be found somewhere in the midpoint between two people shouting at one another. That may be useful in a debate over what the correct trade-off between British sovereignity and economic prosperity is. Indeed, if there are speeches from the Powell back catalogue that deserve the Archive treatment they are surely his crisp and lucid arguments against British membership of the European Communities back in 1975. But the BBC approach to impartiality is less useful if the argument is whether chlorine-washed chicken is safe to eat (it is ) or if climate change is a hoax (it isn’t).

That’s why I am concerned that a BBC documentary is not the right way to look back at Powell’s speech. The problem is not that Powell’s speech is racist. It undoubtedly was: one of the characters who Powell presents as a sympathetic figure is a woman who has made a good living renting out the seven spare rooms of her home, now facing penury because she refuses to rent the rooms out to black people.

The problem is that his speech was wrong. There is not some grand truth to be hammered out halfway between competing views: Enoch Powell was wrong.

To understand that, the best place to start is the one thing that Powell got right: the proportion of the British population that would be non-white British by the year 2000. It was, as Powell feared, one person in every ten. 

But as anyone with a passing recollection of the early Noughties could tell you, the black man did not “have the whip hand over the white man” as Powell approvingly quoted his constituents as fearing.  The United Kingdom had not, it turns out, been  “busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre”. The River Tiber did not foam with much blood.

The reality – one that is even more stark in 2018 – is of a country in which the fastest growing demographic is are mixed-race people, in which marriage across racial divisions is increasingly common, in which the United Kingdom is consistently the most at ease with miscegenation and diversity in western Europe Yes, the United Kingdom is far from perfect – nowhere is. But it is a hell of a lot closer to perfection than the grim future Powell predicted.

But the problem is that this is the kind of unequivocal verdict that British broadcasters struggle to reach, which is why I am deeply nervous about the BBC’s decision to air his speech in full.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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The overlooked aspect of patient care: why NHS catering needs a revolution

The NHS performs so many miracles every day – in comparison, feeding the sick should be a doddle. 

A friend recently sent me a photo from her hospital bed – not of her newborn baby, sadly, but her dinner. “Pls come and revolutionise the NHS” the accompanying text read, along with a plaintive image of some praying hands. A second arrived the next morning: “Breakfast: cereal, toast or porridge. I asked for porridge. She said porridge would be ‘later’. Never arrived. (sad face).”

Contrast this with the glee with which another friend showed me his menu at a Marie Curie hospice a few weeks later. He seemed to have ticked every box on it, and had written underneath his order for syrup sponge and custard: “extra custard please”. It wasn’t fancy, but freshly cooked, comforting food that residents looked forward to – “like school dinners”, he sighed, “but nice”.

To be fair, though budgets vary significantly between hospital trusts, a reliable estimate suggests £3.45 per patient per day as an average – only slightly more than in Her Majesty’s prisons, though unlike in prisons or schools, there is no legally enforceable set of minimum standards for hospital catering. As Prue Leith writes in the foreword to a 2017 report by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, “this means hospital food is uniquely vulnerable to a race to the bottom in terms of food quality, and patient care”.

Plate after plate of disappointment is not only demoralising for people who may already be at a low ebb, but overlooks the part food has to play in the recovery process. Balanced, appetising meals are vital to help weaker patients build up strength during their stay, especially as figures released in February suggest the number of hospital deaths from malnutrition is on the rise. According to Department of Health findings last year, 48 per cent of English hospitals failed to comply with food standards intended to be legally binding, with only half screening every admission for malnutrition.

The Campaign for Better Hospital Food’s report, meanwhile, revealed that only 42 per cent of the London hospitals that responded to its survey cooked fresh food for children – even though the largest single cause of admissions in five-to-nine-year-olds is tooth extraction. Less than a third of respondents cooked fresh food for adults.

Once the means to produce fresh meals are in place, they can save trusts money by allowing kitchens to buy ingredients seasonally, when they are cheaper. Michelin-starred chef Phil Howard, recently tasked by the Love British Food organisation to cook their annual lunch on an NHS budget, explained that this, along with using cheaper cuts and pushing vegetables centre stage, allowed him to produce three courses rather than the two he’d been asked for. Delicious they were, too.

Andy Jones, a chef and former chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, who was there championing British food in the NHS, told me the same principles applied in real healthcare environments: Nottingham City Hospital, which prepares meals from scratch, saves £6m annually by buying fresh local ingredients – “I know with more doing, and voices like my small one shouting out, we will see real sea change.”

Unusually, it’s less a question of money than approach. Serving great hospital food takes a kitchen, skilled cooks and quality ingredients. But getting every hospital to this point requires universal legal quality standards, like those already in place in schools, that are independently monitored.

Nutrition should be taken as seriously as any other aspect of care. The NHS performs so many miracles every day – in comparison, feeding the sick should be a doddle. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge