The historian's views on race and rioting are ignorant and confused. Thankfully most people realise this
Invited by BBC2's Newsnight last Friday for a discussion about the rioting, I was looking forward to an interesting debate. Fellow guests were Owen Jones, whose recent book on the white working class was widely admired, and historian David Starkey, whose perspective should have been a plus.
But, instead of that debate, the viewers were treated to Starkey's random and confused thoughts on British youth culture. ... It is, as anyone who's tried it will know, very difficult to argue with crass stupidity. What do you make of someone who thinks using "Jamaican" slang encourages youth to torch buildings? You may as well argue that speaking with an upper-class accent encourages people to hunt foxes.
Look at her, a prisoner of the gutter,
Condemned by every syllable she ever uttered. ...
Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?
This verbal class distinction, by now,
Should be antique.
If you spoke as she does, sir,
Instead of the way you do,
Why, you might be selling flowers, too!
The host, Emily Maitlis, Jones and I had a go at challenging Starkey's views. But it's difficult to challenge someone who offers you no evidence apart from someone's text message and a spell teaching in Jamie Oliver's Dream School.
As a former teacher I was tempted to suggest that Starkey go out into the corridor and think about what he'd said. Do intelligent and well-educated people in Britain really believe this nonsense? Are the debates about "race" and criminality that were supposed to have been fought and won decades ago going to have to be rehashed? Do we really need to compare gangsta rap with other forms of "outlaw" music, like country and western? Again?
Mercifully the response to Starkey's remarks was overwhelmingly negative. I've been bombarded with emails and tweets from across the globe, 99% of which found him either ludicrous or comical. One tweeter was reminded of the 1970s character Eddie Booth from Love Thy Neighbour, the British sitcom. ...
But the central problem with Starkey's comments is that they were based on complete ignorance about the social dynamics of urban life in Britain.