David Starkey will not shut up. The self-styled “alienated intellectual,” whose mother repeatedly warned him: “Your tongue will be the ruin of you,” may have been cancelled but he refuses to be silenced - despite the chorus of disapproval.
Sajid Javid joined the universal condemnation when the historian and broadcaster suggested in July that slavery was not genocide.
Discussing the debate surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement on rightwing commentator Darren Grimes’ podcast, the 75-year-old said: “Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain would there? You know, an awful lot of them survived.”
The former Chancellor seemed to sum up the wide-spread revulsion when he tweeted:
We are the most successful multi-racial democracy in the world and have much to be proud of. But David Starkey's racist comments ("so many damn blacks") are a reminder of the appalling views that still exist.— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) July 2, 2020
Dr Starkey was swiftly dropped by his publishers HarperCollins, resigned from his honorary fellowship at Fitzwilliam College at Cambridge, was terminated as a visiting professor at Canterbury Christ Church University and had his honorary degree from Lancaster University revoked.
He also left the board of The Mary Rose Trust, had his Medlicott Medal withdrawn by the Historical Association, was forced to resign his fellowship with the Royal Historical Society and gave up his fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries of London at the request of its Council.
It was not the first time he had been criticised for his remarks on race. Following the summer riots in 2011, he told BBC Newsnight that “a substantial amount of the chavs have become black. The whites have become black; a particular sort of violent destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion.”
For one of Britain’s most learned scholars to have so foolishly allowed history to repeat itself struck many as more than accidental.
Dr Starkey may claim to be the victim of ‘wokeness’ but, for many, there is a sense that Radio 4’s former Moral Maze contestant knew exactly what he was doing and was actively trying to live up to his reputation as “the rudest man in Britain”.
As we meet at his Highgate home for his first interview since his “three-day divestiture”, Dr Starkey remains very much the agent provocateur.
“I used an inanely silly form of words which I publicly apologised but the reaction to it was deliberately gross overreaction,” he insists.
“It is indefensible if I just offered those two words. If I had just said “damn blacks”. That would be an implication. Can I just point out one very simple thing? As I understand it now, the police are hypersensitive over charges of racism. There has not been a peep. Right? So I didn’t say damn blacks, I said a longer phrase.” But still? Few appear willing to buy Dr Starkey’s clumsy argument that he was referring to the “damn” number of black people, rather than the people themselves. He seems unaware that the terminology is offensive in itself.
Accusing his detractors of “Salem-style puritanism,” Dr Starkey seems to think it’s personal, even suggesting at one point that “the BBC played a significant part in ringing round”.
“They would have cheerfully burned me at the stake,” he adds. “Everybody that expelled me was itching to do because they signed up to Black Lives Matter.
“The values that we’re talking about - the values of statue toppling. These are the same values as ISIS. We are going to see book burnings next. The British Library is now purging its shelves.”
The specialist in Tudor history is clearly still smarting over the British Library’s decision to remove an introductory essay he wrote for the catalogue for their forthcoming exhibition on Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.
“They begged me to do it and they’re not going to publish it now. There can be no defence for that. It is completely in my own area of academic expertise. That is an attempt at saying somebody is so vile that we cannot tolerate their work.”
Warming to his central theme - that almost all of academia and most British institutions have been “deliberately subverted” - he adds: “If they could obliterate, if they could kill, if they could burn my books - that’s what they’ll do.
“The entire machinery of academic promotion and academic endorsement and of academic advancement has been taken over, and therefore heretics like me have to be routed out. It’s very similar to what happened to German universities under Hitler. The group that is most vulnerable, I’m afraid, are intellectuals.
“Right over the country, you have these kinds of implantations of Metropolitan wokeness. The universities are acting rather like Covid spreaders, these are the super spreaders.
“These people wear a cloak of impenetrable virtue. We’ve been here before. This is Robespierre.”
The self-comparison with one of the most influential figures of the French Revolution is typical of Dr Starkey, who is equally comfortable identifying with Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, a foul-mouthed Greek servant described as “the most determinedly unpleasant person in all of Shakespeare”.
An only child who came out as gay to his Quaker parents as a 1960s teeanger, there is no doubt the former grammar school boy positively revels in his rebel status, boasting: “I’ve always had a naughty streak. I’ve always challenged authority. I’m on the right but it’s kind of ironic on the right. I’ve studied kings, so I’m very aware of the feet of clay of authority.”
Yet while the avowed atheist insists: “I’ve never tried to create an orthodoxy”, there is something preacher-like about his melodramatic disapprobation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
As he describes the organisation as “religious” and “as bad as the Catholic church,” he delivers a sermon on its attempts to “delegitimize” British history.
“What Black Lives Matter is doing is a deliberate inversion of the proper processes of historical analysis. It is beginning with a conclusion. And it is adapting facts to that conclusion. You should begin with the facts and work forward to a conclusion.
“If you look at the list of organisations which cancelled me, it looks the sort of thing that one should be ashamed about. The Royal Historical Society, The Society of Antiquaries, my publishers, and more interestingly, my agents. What had every one of those organisations done? They all signed up to the most extreme version of Black Lives Matter.
“The Royal Historical Society, a chartered body invoking the name of the monarch, has actually published a document which begins with: ‘Why I stopped talking to white people about racism’ as its starting point. That means that you’ve got closed minds. The Society of Authors should have defended me but instead it took a partisan, rather than a professional position. I think there’s a case for a Privy Council investigation.”
He issues a similar exhortation about Twitter, which he accuses of “editing public life”, adding: “We’ve created a proxy of public opinion that doesn’t believe in debate, it believes in silencing people.”
Although Dr Starkey stiffly maintains he is “only trying to use words with proper significance, rather than pure emotionalism,” his claim that “racist has become the equivalent of heretic,” is unlikely to win over the many who genuinely find his comments deeply offensive.
“The question is how much we should actually worry about other people being offended,” he shrugs. “We are now in a situation in which a hate crime is what the victim perceives the behaviour to be. If we are just going to say that somebody’s being hurt is alone enough to exclude you from public discourse, then we may as well give up.
“If I am hurt about something, therefore you were wrong - you cannot operate on that basis.”
But what about when someone deliberately sets out to hurt others? Admitting to being “unusally thick skinned” and buoyed by “a certain gay insouciant courage”, is Dr Starkey, who admits he treats “life as a bit of a game,” really the best person to be setting the rules? “All creative thought depends on dissent!” he rails.
Seemingly unafraid to court yet more controversy, Dr Starkey has been taken on by a new agent, Matthew Hamilton, and has already started writing his autobiography.
“It’s going to be called Damned,” he says, rather too gleefully.
“I could just quietly go back and sit in my garden but I am still the insolent little boy that I always was. As my mother said: ‘Your tongue will be the ruin of you,’ and she was right and wrong. It’s both been the making and the ruin.
“There is an attempt at the obliteration of European civilisation. This seems to me to be the end of everything. In the name of acceptance, of broadening, of anti-discrimination, we’re at the risk of undoing what is our only claim to survive in the future. The only thing that’s made these little islands what they are is this astonishing burst of creativity of the last 500 years.
“It is our individualism, it’s our bloody mindedness, our awkwardness, our refusal to fit into categories that has made us, dare I use the word, great. And if we lose that we are lost, we have absolutely nothing else.
“The world that my enemies are trying to create is one that we will just go down the tubes, we are finished. I believe in going down fighting.”
It seems Dr Starkey is determined to be damned.