John Enoch Powell (16 June 1912 – 8 February 1998) was a British politician, classical scholar, author, linguist, soldier, philologist and poet. He served as a Conservative Member of Parliament (1950–1974), then Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MP (1974–1987), and was Minister of Health (1960–1963).
Before entering politics, Powell was a classical scholar, becoming a full professor of Ancient Greek at the age of 25 in Australia. During World War II, he served in both staff and intelligence positions, reaching the rank of brigadier in his early thirties. He also wrote poetry (published as early as 1937), as well as many books on classical and political subjects.
Powell attracted widespread attention following his 20 April 1968 address to the General Meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre, which became known as the “Rivers of Blood” speech. It criticised then-current rates of immigration into the UK, especially from the New Commonwealth, and opposed the then-proposed anti-discrimination legislation Race Relations Bill. In response, Conservative Party leader Edward Heath sacked Powell from his position as Shadow Defence Secretary (1965–1968) in the Conservative opposition. The speech was immediately considered by many as a blatant demonstration of racism, drawing sharp criticism from his own party and from the press. While Powell did not consider himself a racist, The Economist claimed in an editorial on the 50th anniversary of the speech that his rhetoric had a “lasting and malign effect … on the way in which race and migration are discussed, or not discussed”.In the aftermath of the “Rivers of Blood” speech, several polls suggested that between 67 and 82 per cent of the UK population agreed with Powell’s opinions. His supporters claimed that the large public following which Powell attracted helped the Conservatives to win the 1970 general election, and perhaps cost them the February 1974 general election, when Powell turned his back on the Conservatives by endorsing a vote for Labour, which returned as a minority government in early March following a hung parliament.
Powell was returned to the House of Commons in October 1974 as the Ulster Unionist Party MP for the Northern Irish constituency of South Down. He represented the constituency until he was defeated at the 1987 general election.