The outspoken Dr David Starkey is in trouble for his analysis of black culture which he made on the BBC in response to the August Riots. A.P. Schrader tells us where he went wrong.
It seems that famed Right-wing telly historian David Starkey has landed himself in hot water. At least, if the lefty liberal ‘Twitterati’ are to be believed. You would be forgiven for thinking that Dr Starkey was guilty of intolerable racist utterances beyond the pale in this day and age. Piers Morgan, for example, calls him a “racist idiot”. The truth, of course, is a little more opaque. In point of fact, Dr Starkey made a couple of reasonable observations but was ambushed by what certainly had the appearance of a classic BBC trap.
The good doctor had the misfortune of being a guest on Newsnight last Friday night, talking about the recent riots. The discussion was chaired by Emily Maitlis, the pretty BBC presenter who I note chose (or was instructed) to refer to looters and criminals as “protesters” throughout the Corporation’s coverage of the ‘disorder’ that swept the country (I am now pursuing a personal policy of refusing to refer to these disturbances as ‘riots’, as this implies some political or ideological motivation behind what was, in actual fact, bland criminality). There is no doubt that Dr Starkey made a total ass of himself and his first mistake was in wandering into this Leftist bear trap. James Delingpole has revealed in a recent blog that he was also invited to appear on Newsnight that evening but was – lucky for him – holidaying in Wales at the time. The Beeb then seem to have snared the publicity-hungry Dr Starkey to be the token right-winger for their lefty love-in. He strode into the Valley of Death like a true naif. That was Dr Starkey’s first mistake.
Dr Starkey’s opening comment was to deny that the ‘riots’ were anything other than “completely superficial”. This pretty much chimes with my own analysis and why I reject both the term ‘riots’ to classify these events and ‘protesters’ to describe the participants. These were thugs engaged in what Nick Clegg summed up beautifully (unusually for him) as “acquisitional crime”. It was simply an opportunity to steal with apparent impunity. “Shopping with violence”. Dr Starkey then went on to make his second mistake: he mentioned Enoch Powell.
This reporter is a huge admirer of the late Brigadier Powell (indeed, I would have little difficulty in describing myself as a ‘Powellite’) but there is no doubt that the name of Enoch Powell has tremendous resonance and incumbent risks to anyone who evokes it. Of course, it should not be this way: the Left should not be allowed to shut down the argument and stifle free speech but we are where we are. Less than a minute into the broadcast Dr Starkey presented the Left with a well worn and comfortable club with which to beat him and drown out the rest of his argument.
Dr Starkey’s point about Brigadier Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech was well-founded and reasonable. He said; “His [Enoch Powell’s] prophesy was absolutely right… in one sense” (note the crucial qualifier after the pause that will, inevitably, go unreported) “…the Tiber didn’t foam with blood, but flames lambent wrapped round Tottenham”. He went on to further qualify his agreement with Brigadier Powell by saying; “But it wasn’t inter-communal violence. This is where he was completely wrong…”. This is where the good doctor really put his foot in it. He said:
“What’s happened is that a substantial section of the Chavs that you wrote about have become black. The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that’s been intruded in England, and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.”
Oh dear. Dr Starkey’s third mistake was less, I would argue, that he said the above and more that he said it while sat next to an extremely unimpressed-looking black lady (the novelist Dreda Say Mitchell). I’m bound to say that Miss Say Mitchell conducted herself with reasonable restraint given that she is of Caribbean descent (Grenadian rather than Jamaican) and grew up in the East End, though she has since gone on to pen an article for The Guardian calling him “random and confused” and accusing him of “crass stupidity” and “tired, crude stereotyping”. The ‘you’ Dr Starkey referred to in his remarks was the third panellist, Owen Jones, author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (the work to which Dr Starkey refers).
Mr Jones is a particularly noxious little snot in his 20s (à la Johann Hari), who previously worked both as a trade-union lobbyist and as a parliamentary researcher for a Labour MP before putting his fatuous thoughts to paper after apparently taking umbrage at some innocuous remark at a dinner party (to the effect “It’s sad that Woolworth’s is closing. Where will all the chavs buy their Christmas presents? Haw! Haw! Haw!”). In the aforementioned tome of liberal woolly-minded thinking, Mr Jones stakes his claim to Julie Burchill’s crown as apologist-in-chief for that generation of feral youths, whom Mr Jones chooses to label, universally, as “the working-class” or “poor kids”. He wasted no time in tearing into Dr Starkey.
“What you’re doing is equating black culture with criminality”, salivated young Jones. It is by no means clear that Dr Starkey was doing that at all but Mr Jones attacks him for doing so with impressive spittle-flecked faux outage. In fact, Dr Starkey tried to stress that the nihilistic attitude found among the underclass is manufactured and bi-racial but this message was, by now, being submerged under a tidal wave of indignation from Mr Owen and Miss Say Mitchell. The trap had been sprung. Dr Starkey’s fate was sealed. Apparently not content with being the rage-filled socialist-in-residence at the BBC (where he is a regular), speaking on behalf of the oppressed workers of Britain, Mr Jones is now apparently a spokesman for black people too. Anything that allows him to perpetuate his caricature of the Right as a bunch of villainous, racist, upper-class snobs, one supposes (if so, he probably couldn’t believe his luck when Dr Starkey replaced Mr Delingpole, a far more effective advocate of right-wing philosophy).
As is so often the case with Dr Starkey, he makes a number of good points but, because he is a deeply vain and arrogant man, blunders into the debate in a Clouseauesque manner, making patronising, ill-thought-through, patrician remarks dressed up as “plain speaking”. We must not allow Dr Starkey’s shortcomings, however, to enable the Left to shut down a legitimate debate on social and cultural problems simply because they contain a slight racial bent (as the Left have done successfully for over a decade now).
The key thing to emphasise is that, although he was tactless and although his argument lacked the necessary grace and finesse, he makes several key arguments that are beyond dispute and demonstrably true: 1) That there is a “particular form” of black culture (as opposed to black culture in general, as Mr Jones was keen to assert Dr Starkey had implied) which is characterised by an obsession with a particularly odious brand of destructive, violent nihilism. 2) Though Dr Starkey’s attempt to imitate the so-called ‘Jamaican patois‘ on Newsnight was faintly absurd, there is clearly a ‘gangster culture’ associated with Jamaican gangs and American rap music that has developed as a distinct sub-culture in this country, exemplified by this slightly bizarre way of speaking (Dr Starkey read out an e-mail sent by one of those involved in the disturbances, written in a sort of ‘pidgin ghetto slang’).
The comedy duo of Armstrong & Miller got the sheer bizarreness of this phenomena pegged years ago when they started their airmen sketches, in which two Battle of Britain pilots replete with pipes and RAF whiskers talk to each other in the way Dr Starkey describes (“Are you alright then? ‘Coz you, like, crashed your plane in a field, isn’ it. And you, like, mashed up your plane and some cows and sh*t”) and one need only think of Matt Lucas’ ‘Vicky Pollard’ or Catherine Tate’s ‘Lauren Cooper’ characters for variants on how these strange speech patterns and the things they say (“Am I bovvered?”) typify their attitude and outlook. 3) This sub-culture that has engulfed the British underclass is not restricted to people of one skin colour but is embraced by blacks and whites alike (indeed, is not simply working-class but is embraced from people from a variety of economic and social backgrounds, as we have seen from some of the slightly more curious arrests made – i.e., the teaching assistant).
Dr Starkey’s most controversial assertion was yet to come. He observed that the Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, to whom I paid tribute in my earlier article, sounded like “an archetypical successful black man. If you turned the screen off so you were listening to him on radio you’d think he was white.” Pipsqueak Jones was quick to leap on this one: “You said David Lammy when you heard him sounded white and what you meant by that is that white people equals respectable.” Is that what he meant? I’m not so sure that was his intention. Nevertheless, his wording was atrocious. Another Twitterer, firebrand Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, attacked the BBC, asking “Why was racist analysis of Starkey unchallenged?” This seems an extraordinary claim, given that the far from impartial Miss Maitlis visibly lost her rag with Dr Starkey at one point, bluntly accusing him of “using black and white culture interchangeably as good and bad”.
These are important arguments and it is going to be up to the Right to break through the wall of deluded cant that will inevitably erected by the likes of Mr Jones and his friends in the Labour Party. They are, after all, largely responsible for creating the social conditions that abandoned a whole generation of our young people to growing up with this shocking lack of values. They are, therefore, wedded to the ‘PC’ agenda. If they are to be defeated and the social fabric of this nation repairs, the Right will need better spokesmen than David Starkey.