Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University

The language the Tudor historian David Starkey used in an interview with the young journalist Darren Grimes crossed the line, as he admitted when he apologised for it. He described it as “deplorably inflammatory” and a “bad mistake”. But did he really deserve to be subjected to what George Orwell described as the “Two Minutes Hate”? In his public apology, the historian said he had lost “every distinction and honour acquired in a long career” – a heavy price to pay for uttering one offensive word. Among the positions he lost was his Honorary Fellowship of Fitzwilliam College and that left me puzzled as to what standard Cambridge academics are being held to, given that a week earlier Dr Priyamvada Gopal, also a Fellow of a Cambridge college, was supported by the University after she tweeted “White Lives Don’t Matter”. “The University defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial,” it said. That’s a laudable principle, but why wasn’t Dr Starkey granted the same licence? We have written to Professor Stephen Toope, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, seeking clarification.