Days after Cameron was praised by the head of the Equality Commission for tackling the issue of immigration in a non-racial way, Labour called on the Tory leader to remove Nigel Hastilow as a prospective Conservative candidate for declaring that Powell was 'right'. A spokesman said: 'It's not unreasonable to be concerned about the impact of immigration, but it is unacceptable to say Enoch Powell was right. How can David Cameron believe this is acceptable?'
Pressure is likely to increase on Cameron to act after the Tory leadership decided last night that there were no grounds to move against Hastilow. He is instead to be asked to clarify his remarks and to make clear that his views are about immigration and, unlike Powell's speech, do not stray into the area of race.
The row broke out after Hastilow, who last year accused Muslims of using terror attacks to 'issue demands' for their own bank holidays and schools, used his regular column in the Wolverhampton Express and Star newspaper to complain about how immigration has changed Britain and placed great strains on housing and public services.
He wrote that 'we [Britain] roll out the red carpet for foreigners while leaving the locals to fend for themselves'. Hastilow, a former editor of the Birmingham Post, adds: 'When you ask most people in the Black Country what the single biggest problem facing the country is, most people say immigration. Many insist: "Enoch Powell was right".
'Enoch, once MP for Wolverhampton South-West, was sacked from the Conservative front bench and marginalised politically for his 1968 "rivers of blood" speech, warning that uncontrolled immigration would change our country irrevocably. He was right. It has changed dramatically. But his speech was political suicide. Enoch's successors in parliament are desperate to avoid ever mentioning the issue.'
The remarks by Hastilow, who was selected in April to contest the marginal seat of Halesowen and Rowley Regis, which the Tories must win if they are to regain power, present Cameron with a headache. It is only days since Trevor Phillips, head of the new Equality and Human Rights Commission, praised Cameron for a speech on immigration in which the Tory leader had managed to 'deracialise' a highly-sensitive issue. Cameron showed his new approach in March this year when he sacked the shadow Homeland Security Minister, Patrick Mercer, for 'completely unacceptable' remarks suggesting that many ethnic minority soldiers used accusations of racism to cover up their idleness.
Moving against a parliamentary candidate is more difficult because local Conservative associations jealously guard their independence. Mary Docker, chairman of the Halesowen and Rowley Regis association, last night offered strong support for Hastilow. Asked by The Observer whether she would stand by him, Docker said: 'Most certainly. Yes. He was selected by our association to stand in the forthcoming election whenever that may be. He is an excellent candidate. He is a down-to-earth man who talks to people and doesn't talk at them. He is representative of the views of many Black Country people.'
Docker added that Hastilow was right to endorse Powell's view that Britain has been transformed by immigration. 'It is a feeling that is held by many Black Country people, certainly ones I speak to. There is no denying that immigration has had a great effect on the way services are run in this country.'
She insisted that this did not make her or Hastilow racists. 'The difficulty is that if people have views about immigration it is immediately deemed as being racist. That is not the situation. People are entitled to have their opinions about things that have an integral effect on their lives.' But some of Hastilow's language may be regarded as controversial. He opens his article with the story of 'a granny' who has had to house her single-parent daughter and two young children because all council housing has been taken by immigrants.
He goes on to say people are too afraid to discuss the issue after Powell's removal from the shadow cabinet by Ted Heath. 'Immigration is the issue that dare not speak its name. Yet everywhere you go, you hear the same story. There are too many people competing for houses, benefits, public services and jobs.'