David Starkey

David Starkey on Newsnight, where his race remarks caused controversy during a debate on the riots

The BBC has received nearly 700 complaints about race remarks made by historian David Starkey during a Newsnight programme last Wednesday about the recent riots.

The broadcaster said it had received 696 complaints by the following afternoon after Starkey claimed that one of the reasons behind the unrest was that "whites have become black".

The majority of complaints called Starkey's comments "inappropriate and racially offensive", with some also criticising the BBC for having him as a guest and not challenging him more robustly.

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband said yesterday (15 August), that Starkey's comments were "disgusting and outrageous", adding that there was "no place for them in our society".

The well-known historian was addressing fellow Newsnight guest Owen Jones, author of Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, when he said: "What has happened is that the substantial section of the chavs that you wrote about 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 this Jamaican patois that has intruded in England. This is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country."

He also said that Tottenham MP David Lammy was an "archetypal successful black man", and claimed that if you were listening to Lammy on the radio "you would think he was white".

Speaking at Haverstock School, his former school in Chalk Farm in London, Miliband said it was "absolutely outrageous that someone in the 21st Century could be making that sort of comment".

He added: "There should be condemnation from every politician, from every political party of those sorts of comments."

Lammy accused Starkey of "breathtaking ignorance" and said his comments were "dangerous and divisive".

Alongside Starkey and Jones in the debate was writer Dreda Say Mitchell, who later wrote in the Guardian that Starkey's comments were "random and confused" and accused him of a "complete ignorance about the social dynamics of urban life in Britain". Jones said in the News Statesman that Starkey was "not just offensive" but "downright dangerous".

The BBC itself faced criticism from viewers who felt Starkey had not been challenged robustly enough during the debate, which was chaired by Emily Maitlis.

The BBC has issued a statement defending the programme: "Whilst we acknowledge that some people will have found David Starkey's comments offensive he was robustly challenged by presenter Emily Maitlis and the other contributors who took issue with his comments.

"Owen Jones particularly highlighted that many people listening would find the views expressed offensive, and Emily provided further context making it clear that David Cameron had said this was not a race issue and that people taking part in the riots came from a range of ethnic backgrounds."

Complaints have also been made to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

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