Laurie Penny: The violent prejudices of dinosaur David Starkey

When I criticised him for playing xenophobia for laughs, Professor Starkey showed his claws

Laurie Penny
Monday 25 June 2012 10:45
Comments

What's your favourite dinosaur? I always preferred the Archaeopteryx, the little stubby bird-ancestor, but recently a whole new species has been discovered alive and nesting in the discursive swamps of what was once British political culture. Bigotaurus Ridiculus, a spiny-hided predator, is not yet extinct, and a danger to anyone looking to create progressive change in this country.

The Bigotaurus can be found waddling free in the more exclusive watering-holes of London even in the early years of the 21st century, and although most at home in oak-panelled environments, can often be seen on Newsnight and Question Time hunting the clear-thinking egalitarian agendas on which it feeds when it can't get claret. The creature tricks its victims with a camouflage of adorable sexagenarian buffonery.

When provoked, for example by mentioning issues of tax transparency, this particular dinosaur becomes aggressive, baring the sharp fangs it hides in its ponderous jowls. I found that out during a recent encounter with the beast in its natural habitat. At an education festival this weekend, I spoke on a panel about the meaning of "Britishness" with Professor David Starkey, noted historian and hack, who made the argument that English society has become corrupted by the influence of people from other cultures and races.

Describing himself as a lone "voice in the wilderness" and "saying the unsayable", the Professor, who has often been criticised for making racially divisive statements in public, proceeded to say what windbag ultra-Tory talking heads have been saying openly and obliquely for years – namely, that "real British values" are not, as Starkey put it, "entrenched in the foothills of the Punjab".

When I criticised Starkey for playing xenophobia for laughs, and asked why, as an advocate of Britishness, he lives for part of the year in the United States, the dinosaur showed its claws. Leaping to his feet, Starkey began with a furious ad hominem attack before marching up to me, wagging his finger in my face, shouting abuse, swearing and showering me with flecks of spittle. If you call a bigot a bigot in this country, you can expect to be attacked, but I didn't expect the sheer thuggishness behind Starkey's brand of cosy prejudice to reveal itself so publicly.

Bigotaurus thrives in the temperate climate of Britain. It quenches its thirst for attention at the cesspool of the British media circus, to an audience too deferential to put it in its place. In this country, public debate has become a spiteful, irrelevant Punch-and-Judy show, and professional provocateurs like Starkey are paid to create aggressive spectacle that obscures useful discussion. Like the ancient lizards, Starkey and his kind are perilously ill-adapted to the modern world – but they have yet to be consigned to history where they belong.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in