Editorial Michaelmas 2011 Week 8

17 November 2011

David Starkey has yet again become something of an embarrassment, to the University, Fitzwilliam College and also himself.

At a recent historians’ conference, Starkey ignited controversy by accusing a Trinity Fellow of being an “immigrant who was trying to push a multi-cultural agenda in education” and claimed Britain was a “white mono-culture”. He claimed education should “focus on your own culture” and should follow the history of the British Isles.

This is rather an interesting statement; coming from a man whose scholarship has been dominated by studies of the history of the monarchy and Henry VIII in particular, with a far weaker emphasis on anything not related to history’s other social and cultural aspects. He once said that female historians have been responsible for ‘feminising’ history by not focusing on the male hegemony of Henry VIII.

Firstly, Starkey asserted that Britain is a ‘white mono-culture’ outside London. It would appear Starkey has not been outside London. Has he ever been to Bath, Leicester or (heaven forbid, given that he once referred to it as “a pathetic little country”) Scotland? Diversity in Britain’s social make-up is not just about race, but regional identity, political allegiance and class. To assert that the rural Home Counties are part of the same ‘mono-culture’ as those living in former mining or industrial towns is frankly preposterous. With regional dialects, cuisines, and political loyalties, such assertions become meaningless. Take into account the wave after wave of immigration, assimilation and the cross-cultural exchanges that have occurred in these islands in the last two thousand years and any statements of ‘mono-culture’ are not worthy of a historian of his standing.

Even Boris Johnson had the insight to realise our nation’s capital was founded by a group of ‘upstart Italians’ and populated by people from all over Europe. Starkey’s comments not only reveal his ignorance of social history, but also his seeming inability to express himself with any subtlety. His assertions over the summer that David Lammy was effectively ‘white’ because of the way he spoke emphasises his perverse attitudes to race and culture. Integration makes you white… apparently.

However, let’s be charitable: when you ignore the cultural and social history of this country over the last two thousand years, and then proceed to give opinions on areas which are not your expertise, you are bound to end the experience looking like a fool. It is just unfortunate that David Starkey doesn’t learn from history.

Indeed, if his interests had strayed beyond the shores of Britain to a place called ‘The United States’ he may have learned something from a man named Abraham Lincoln. He famously said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” This is something David Starkey would do well to remember.