Historian David Starkey remained defiant last night after provoking a race storm by claiming the recent riots happened because too many young white people had ‘now become black’.
The broadcaster was branded a racist yesterday after an appearance on Friday night’s Newsnight programme, when he blamed the riots on a ‘violent, destructive and nihilistic’ gang culture, which he said was being embraced by many white and black people.
He stunned his fellow guests on the BBC2 show, writer Owen Jones and black author and broadcaster Dreda Say Mitchell, by placing the blame for the riots squarely with a form of black male culture that he said ‘mitigated against education’.
He said: ‘A substantial section of the chavs have become black. The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion.
‘Black and white, boy and girl operate in this language together. This language which is wholly false, which is a Jamaican patois, that’s been intruded in England and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.’
Fellow broadcasters, politicians and members of the public criticised his remarks on Twitter and other social networking sites yesterday, and some even predicted that his television career was now ruined.
Piers Morgan, the chat-show host and Mail on Sunday columnist, tweeted: ‘RIP David Starkey’s TV career. And good riddance. Racist idiot.’ Owen Jones, who challenged Dr Starkey during the Newsnight discussion, said: ‘David Starkey has had a career-ending moment, but in the current climate, his comments are very dangerous.’
In a surprise move, the BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston, joined the chorus of disapproval, tweeting: ‘David Starkey’s nasty ignorance is best ignored not worthy of comment or debate.’ As a BBC employee, Mr Peston would normally be expected to be impartial about the channel’s output.
Dr Starkey last night denied he had said anything racist and said he stood by his comments, reiterating that in times of economic and political crisis, ‘plain speaking’ was needed.
He told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I said until I was blue in the face on the programme that I was not talking about skin colour but gang culture. A large group of whites have started to behave like blacks. I think that is the most unracial remark anyone can make.’
Dr Starkey caused further outrage on Newsnight by claiming that if people listened to David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, on the radio, they would assume he was white.
He added last night: ‘David Lammy does sound white, so does [MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington] Diane Abbott, because they’ve had a white cultural experience. It’s one of the reasons they don’t have any street credibility. They have no contact with the young.’
In an obvious reference to the phone-hacking scandal, Dr Starkey said that critics like Piers Morgan should concentrate on ‘their own legal difficulties’.
The historian revealed he had reread former Minister Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in light of the tensions.
He said: ‘His prophecy was absolutely right in one sense. The Tiber didn’t foam with blood but flames lambent. They wrapped around Tottenham and around Clapham.’
Yesterday anyone trying to access Newsnight on the BBC’s iPlayer service was confronted with a warning stating: ‘Guidance: Contains some strong language’.
A BBC spokesman said last night: ‘Whilst we acknowledge that some people will have found David Starkey’s comments offensive, he was robustly challenged by [Newsnight] presenter Emily Maitlis and the other contributors.’
The BBC declined to comment on Mr Peston’s comments and said the warning on iPlayer related to one of the rioter’s text messages that Dr Starkey had read out.
David Lammy last night declined to comment.