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Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Tory's race remarks recall "rivers of blood"
Tory MP John Townend
Townend has been disowned by his leader
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

If there is one issue guaranteed to fan the flames of division in Britain it is racism.

And retiring Tory MP John Townend has poured petrol onto that fire with his suggestion that immigrants were responsible for rising crime and for seriously undermining Britain's Anglo-Saxon society.

If he had not done so himself, his speech - which initially referred to coloured immigrants before he changed it to Commonwealth immigrants - would have seen others accusing him of echoing the late Enoch Powell's infamous "rivers of blood" speech 33 years ago.

But this is far from the first time the Tory party has been forced to dissociate itself from the views of some of its own leading lights.

Former Tory minister Enoch Powell
Powell stirred racial divide
There have been a series of incidents in which Tory MPs and local activists have been accused of racism.

And even William Hague's recent "Britain as a foreign land" speech has seen him accused of whipping up xenophobia and racism.

Funeral pyre

Enoch Powell's speech sparked serious racial division and ended his frontbench career.

On 20 April 1968 the then shadow minister told a meeting in Birmingham that Britain was "literally mad" to allow large-scale immigration.

He said Labour's policies were seeing Britain "busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre."

Then, quoting Virgil, he declared: "As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, 'I seem to see the river Tiber foaming with much blood'."

He was instantly sacked by Ted Heath - but Mr Townend has now stated Mr Powell would have been made prime minister if people had known how accurate his forecast would turn out to be.

More recently there was the row surrounding the decision by Conservative Central Office in 1992 to select black barrister John Taylor as the candidate for Cheltenham and Gloucester.

It caused a serious backlash in the local party with allegedly racist attacks on Mr Taylor. Party workers cheered when he lost.

He was later made a peer by John Major and now sits for the Tories in the House of Lords where he has accused Mr Townend of representing "a nasty and ignorant element in our society."

Cricket test

Over the years, former Tory chairman and minister Lord Norman Tebbit has seen himself under attack for allegedly racist remarks.

Former Tory Chairman Lord Norman Tebbit
Tebbit's cricket test
Four years ago William Hague publicly rebuked him after he attacked Britain's transformation into a multi-cultural society.

Lord Tebbit had previously caused controversy for his "cricket test" of nationality in which he said people should cheer the England team regardless of their ethnic background.

Mr Hague was forced to tell him: "I have my own cricket test now - if you don't want to be part of the team then get off the field."

Controversial Tory backbencher Teresa Gorman was also accused of racism in 1998 when she suggested unemployed Bangladeshis in Britain should look harder for jobs in Indian restaurants.

More recently the Tory health spokesman Dr Liam Fox damaged his standing when he suggested in August of last year that patients' lives were being put at risk by the poor language skills of foreign doctors.

He was immediately branded racist by both Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Foreign country

Tory leader William Hague
Hague wants an inclusive party
But probably the biggest row recently surrounded Mr Hague's controversial speech to his party's spring conference in Harrogate in which he spoke of Labour turning Britain into a foreign country.

He declared: "Elect a Conservative government and we will give you back your country."

It saw him accused of whipping up xenophobia and racism -- even former deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine attacked him.

Since then Mr Hague has joined other party leaders in signing a pledge not to play the "race card" during the general election.

But almost immediately he was under attack for planning to use actors to play immigrants in a political broadcast.

The Tory leader has constantly rejected claims he is appealing to nationalistic sentiments amongst voters and has pledged his party will be an inclusive one.

But comments such as those made by Mr Townend and others are making his task increasingly difficult.

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See also:

28 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Hague rebukes Tory MP over race
27 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Actors play migrants in Tory broadcast
04 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Hague plays 'patriot' card
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