Magazine article The Spectator

Starkey Swoops

Magazine article The Spectator

Starkey Swoops

Article excerpt


Starkey swoops

Michael Vestey

One occcasionally reads of people whose bodies overheat to the point where they self-combust and go up in smoke. I have never quite believed it but in the expectation that it might one day happen to the historian Dr David Starkey on Radio Four's The Moral Maze I found myself regularly listening to this programme in its old slot on Thursday mornings. I felt a particular frisson at Starkey's impatient, voluble presence especially as two of his fellow panellists seemed rather dull by comparison.

Since the controller of Radio Four moved it to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays I have either forgotten it was on or have been otherwise engaged. Its repeat at 10.15 on Saturday nights is not much use either. I liked its format, the close questioning of experts about a moral issue in the news by a panel of four with opposing views, and how it covered the ground pretty well as a result. Friends tell me it has not been so sharp recently but when I finally caught up with the present series last week it seemed as good as ever. The subject was Nato's war in Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia. Starkey began by describing the Nato campaign as worse than a crime and a blunder; it was a disaster, he fulminated. I edged further away from the radio in case I went up with him, beginning to picture the headlines: `Historian's Charred Remains Found in Broadcasting House, Prof in Mystery Blaze, Buerk Flees.' In fact, the chairman Michael Buerk does control the argument extremely well and is clearly on hand with a fire extinguisher. First on to confront the four was Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King's College, London.

Was it worth it? Buerk asked him. Yes, said Freedman. Milosevic was destabilising the whole region, and the moral question would have been: why did we allow ourselves to be spectators at such a thing?

Enter the bridling Starkey: do you share Clare Short's complacency at the sight of Serbian refugees? Do you think they just deserved it? I'll give you an analogy, replied Freedman, probably wondering if the central heating had just gone on. I'd like an answer, snapped Starkey. Freedman was determined to get his analogy out, referring to the Czechs evicting Germans at the end of the second world war. With Buerk nervously fingering his fire extinguisher no doubt, Starkey swooped. So you approve of ethnic cleansing? Freedman himself was now beginning to heat up: `Absolutely not! …

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