The reason is very simple. I do not feel that it is fitting to add yet more conjecture to the avalanche of assumptions and gargantuan guesswork that has so far constituted national soul-searching. Furthermore, I do not necessarily know enough about the matters from the perspective of those who took it upon themselves to disgrace the nation; as I do not want to fall into what Dreda Say Mitchell rightly calls the bracket of ‘anecdotes and golf-club chatter’ I feel I must research more before commenting.
In addition to this, what is far more interesting is the fall-out; a calculated, cynical political spin game from which no party or individual has emerged with their dignity intact. Left and right alike are desperately clasping to appear self-deprecating and humble so that they will then appear the voice of reason when party politics and politicking resumes.
However, the left-liberal consensus that masquerades as a three-party democracy was shaken out of its faux-calm by BBC’s Newsnight; specifically the appearance and words of ‘telly historian‘ – as the Mirror so deliciously titles him – David Starkey. Why? Because he clumsily and inaccurately paraphrased Enoch Powell.
Alone in a field of platitudes, mumbling and vague finger-pointing, Starkey seized his opportunity – like Powell before him -to inject controversy, inspire outrage and provoke heated discussion.
This was the lighted touchpaper that the left had been looking for. Ed Miliband – the master condemner – labelled the comments
“racist comments, frankly, and there is no place for them in our society”…. “absolutely outrageous that someone in the 21st Century could be making that sort of comment”.
“There should be condemnation from every politician, from every political party of those sorts of comments.”
From others, the reaction was similarly ridiculous. Histrionic lefty Owen Jones stated – bearing in mind that this came in the aftermath of mass criminality in which people’s lives were threatened and in a couple of tragic cases actually ended – that this ageing historian’s words on a BBC2 show watched by comparatively few were ‘downright dangerous’. Ironically, he promptly ends his article by warning of precisely the same fate as Powell, predicting that
If we fail [to address ‘issues’ in the ‘communities’], last week’s riots could be a dark foreshadow of far worse to come.
What the whole affair actually was was an unwittingly fascinating insight not into the ‘kind of society’ we’ve become, or even as Starkey attempted initially to assert, about the ‘profound cultural change’ which has taken place (an indisputable fact) – it was into how matters of paramount importance are debated in public forums in this country.
The Newsnight stage that evening was, as it almost always is, ordered in the form of consensus that the BBC propagate. As one would expect, Starkey was the only person in the debate to be known for holding views of any other description than those of the host and of his fellow guests – and, as with most right-wing guests, equally well known for controversy.
Here was the problem; in a field of almost total political and ideological consensus, it was almost inevitable that Mr Starkey would say something for deliberate effect. Every syllable of his proclamation that he had been reading ‘Enoch Powell’ and particularly the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech was saturated in a melodramatic assonance intended to shock. Which it did. Starkey made the most of the dramatic pause he created and by the time he referred to Powell’s ‘prophecy’, which he called ‘absolutely right’, his embarrassing attempt at gravitas was already seriously undermining his credibility.
His hasty effort to assert that somehow Powell’s speech was applicable to this scenario, and his thoroughly bizarre replication of Powell’s diction (the word ‘literally’ stressed almost identically) was as trite as it was transparent – it was obvious that he had only used Powell in order to make an entirely different – partly insightful, largely embarrassing – point about Afro-Caribbean-influenced culture. Powell’s speech was about something altogether different; the potential for unrest, violence and civil war because of mass immigration.
Had Mr Starkey undertaken proper research, and not been quite so focused on the shock value of his ideas, he might have noted this phrase from a speech of Powell’s in 1971:
“… millions of people believe they are watching, helpless and not so much unregarded as positively derided: the deliberate dismantling of the frontiers of decency, morality and respect, with a view to producing far-reaching and indeterminate alterations in society itself. They do not believe that these and other phenomena, such as the spread of drugs or the undermining of the universities, are simply reflections of a change taking place spontaneously and generally. They believe that intention is at work, and that it is the intention of a small and elusive but powerful minority.”
And perhaps then, people would be walking around and daubing on walls sentiments that assert that ‘Starkey was right’…
Unfortunately, this was not the case. Simultaneously grossly misrepresenting Enoch Powell and almost all black culture in one sitting is a spectacular error of judgement. This, unfortunately, seems to pass for debate on the BBC. Poor David Starkey – whether he was prepared or not for what he had to say or for the reaction to his comments – was a caricature of an alternative on a news medium that is patently not interested in hearing right-wing views.
James Delingpole, who himself avoided being in Starkey’s position, notes how the debate was set up to stifle open discussion;
Starkey’s debating opponent was Owen Jones, the BBC’s new pet angry young socialist whose default position is perpetual umbrage and righteous rage on behalf of the poor, working class, oppressed and – since Friday, apparently – black people. It’s a cheap trick but one that goes down very well at the BBC, which is why they have Jones back so often. What it achieves, while cleverly avoiding the need for debate on facts (never the liberal-Left’s strong point), is to imply that anyone on the right is evil, selfish, bullying, wrong or – that ne plus ultra of Lefty insults – raaaacist.
The BBC’s debate programmes – already riddled with condescending attitudes, rude interruption and impoliteness – are not, and have not been for some time, places wherein proper, reasoned, polite, appropriate and impartial political debate takes place. BBC shows sometimes contain entire sections given over to left-wing political analysis that is without a hope of balanced analysis from someone of any other political belief.
We, as people of this country, deserve better from our forums of debate. We deserve better than ignorant tirades from people of any political perspective. We deserve better than rude, uncivilised shouting. We deserve better than asinine political consensus. We certainly deserve to know the facts of the matter rather than endless opinionated conjecture and guesswork.
Now we must demand it. It is too important at a time when the mooted solutions are so muddleheaded. The soft-left’s wish to fix the problem by expanding their utterly disastrous social policies and the ignorant-right’s wish to curtail all our liberties to prevent the problem are both as ridiculous as the other. News coverage that is impartial and rigorous is the only way to appeal to easily-swayed politicans – we have a responsibility to ensure that it is.