WIKILEAKS: RACE RIOTS REFLECTED A BACKWARD BRITAIN
American embassy cable from 1980s says turmoil showed a nation failing to come to terms with its changing population…
The race riots across British cities in 1985 inspired the then US ambassador, Raymond Seitz, to draw comparisons with Charles Dickens’s London. After a summer in which Toxteth, Brixton and Handsworth erupted in violence he wrote to Washington: “Dickens described the squalor, overcrowding and poverty in Britain’s cities over a century ago. What has changed is that the people affected are increasingly likely to be members of minority groups.”
The UK was unprepared for dealing with the impact of immigration, he said, and had looked on “complacently” while America struggled with similar riots in the 1960s.
“The one acerbic exception came in 1968 when Enoch Powell, a Conservative MP, made a notorious speech in which he predicted ‘rivers of blood’ in the streets if the tide of Asian and African immigrants was not stemmed,” Seitz wrote. “However crudely and unacceptably to most of his audience, he had put his finger on a problem: Britain appears unprepared to deal with the profound change in the complexion of its society.
“There are only 1 million blacks and browns in Britain, out of a population of 54 million, and by now half of these are British born. But their outsider status persists.”
Racism was reflected in the press, he said. “Reporting of the recent race riots has reflected the rabble-rousing racism which is still easy discourse in modern Britain. Tabloids describe the ‘Zulu-style war cries’ of the rioters and recycle the comments of whites calling them ‘barbarians’ and ‘animals’.
“We are likely to see more rioting ahead. While the onset of winter may inhibit street violence, spring cannot be far behind.”