The recent Birthday Honours brought a knighthood for historian and broadcaster Simon Schama, presumably in recognition of his being the snowflakes’ David Starkey. Already on speed-dial at the BBC as a political pundit and cultural commentator, earlier this week Simon unexpectedly branched into football analysis.
World Cups, by their nature, can pitch together some unlikely opponents; however, a bizarre off-the-ball clash between Schama and former England captain Alan Shearer was not on anyone’s fixture list.
Viewing England versus Tunisia from his lofty perch, waving what I like to imagine being a cross of St George borrowed from Emily Thornberry, Simon sent a tweet scolding the BBC panel: ‘Alan Shearer and everyone going on about how England should just enjoy the football and play loose massively underestimates the inevitable stomach-knotting teeth-gritting nervy wrench of the first game.’
Had Simon confined his opinion to team selection or to the England side’s performance, his subjective judgment would have been no less valid than countless others. Former star players do not necessarily impart wisdom, as any ITV viewer who has endured the vacuous Glenn Hoddle will testify; nevertheless, to school ex-internationals on the psychology of playing in the finals of the World Cup is symptomatic of an ocean-going conceit.
Shearer reacted to this unexpected tackle by taking a retaliatory swipe at Schama’s recent BBC series, condemning Civilisations for having been ‘condescending and self-righteous . . . guilty of the very cultural supremacism it was designed to combat . . . an incoherent, unscholarly, multi-cultural mishmash’.
Hang on. Having re-checked my reference, this critique was in fact by TCW’s Chris McGovern. Shearer instead confined himself to the more prosaic: ‘You do know that I have played in these games, right?’ leaving his many followers to contrast the respective bona fides of Alan and Simon.
You do know that I have played in these games right? https://t.co/dyzvsH9Olp
— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) June 18, 2018
This BBC pet has of course been embroiled in many a verbal skirmish, alongside which his mild Twitter spat with Alan Shearer, though amusing due to its curiosity, barely registers. In a later football-related tweet Simon had reiterated his belief that ‘repeated instructions to relax can have opposite effect’, which brought to mind his appearance on Newsnight following Trump’s election victory – a result which Schama, as envoy for the distressed Left, ascribed to a ‘toxic, malodorous element of race’. Mischievously advised by Melanie Phillips to ‘calm down, dear’, this did indeed have the opposite effect, with Simon distraughtly declaring (at 4:00): ‘It’s not a moment for calm!’
Nor was calmness or rationality in evidence when Schama was permitted contemptuously to assert that ‘detestation of immigrants’ was the ‘driving engine’ not just of Trump’s successful campaign but also of the movement to leave the EU.
Mercifully, not everyone has allowed his smug sanctimony to go unchallenged. Laura Perrins recently posted footage of the 2016 Munk Debate on the Global Refugee Crisis: having derisively dismissed the reported surge in sex crimes being committed by migrants to parts of Europe, Schama found himself obliterated by the enraged Mark Steyn.
Schama’s hauteur had already been exposed long before those votes in favour of both Brexit and Trump, one notable example being a revealing altercation with Rod Liddle on Question Time. Recorded when the migrant camp at Calais was bursting and many more were springing up around the Mediterranean, Schama had flagged his humanitarianism with a lordly command that we accept many more of the self-identifying refugees. Liddle derided this insouciant support for mass migration as ‘non-sequitur emotional incontinence’, telling Simon that he was ‘interested in outcomes, not in your emotion’. Responding to Rod’s ‘contemptible’ charge, Schama’s rejoinder was to reach for the most pejorative term in his vocabulary and sneer that Liddle was ‘turning his suburban face away from the plight of the miserable’.
At the time, Douglas Murray elegantly skewered Mr Uppity regarding his choice of insult: ‘In that use of “suburban” Schama showed something a lot of us had suspected – which is that for a certain type of globe-trotting international celebrity, any concern for borders, national identity and cultural continuity are not just beneath them, but actively “common”.’
For supercilious Schama, the multifarious societal problems that arise from uncontrolled mass migration have indeed been a much lesser concern than his dread of being thought petit bourgeois – a worry which need never again trouble the newly ennobled Sir Simon.