The things people say in anger are generally the most revealing things of all. So it was on last night’s Question Time when a clearly very angry Simon Schama confronted Rod Liddle of this parish on the question of migrants.
I’m sure Rod himself will have something to say about this, but I thought it very striking that in a debate over whether the UK should take in millions more economic migrants and asylum seekers, Simon Schama chose to level two insults in particular at Rod.
The first was that Rod is a ‘hack’ who writes for the newspapers. Of course Simon Schama clearly regards his own voluminous contributions to the press on both sides of the Atlantic as being on a far higher plane. Indeed you can find a selection of these immortal pieces preserved in the volume ‘Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: writings on ice cream, Obama, Churchill and my mother.’ Even Simon Schama's writings on ice cream are clearly works which fly higher in his own estimation than anything by Rod on the biggest issue of our time.
But the other word was even more revealing. In berating comrade Liddle, Professor Scribble denounced him for turning ‘your suburban face away from the plight of the miserable.’ I suppose we will all just have to speculate over what kind of face Simon Schama regards himself as having (metrosexual, aristocratic, epicene?). But that word is one hell of a give-away. Indeed I don’t think any liberal celebrity has slipped quite so conspicuously since Stephen Fry denounced public concern during the MPs expenses scandal as being ‘tedious, bourgeois’.
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’. Of course, like so many other advocates of mass immigration, Simon Schama can probably live pretty much where he wants. And if the area around him goes somewhat downhill because the neighbours all start to come from the rougher corners of Eritrea then Simon Schama can move. And he will probably move to a very nice area. But of course not everybody has that choice. And one thing we can all be certain of is that Simon Schama will probably never choose to live in Bradford, Malmo or any of the (dare I say it) ‘suburbs’ outside Paris. Yet all the time he will urge other peoples’ neighbourhoods to more closely resemble those great success stories, and look down at people from an ever-loftier height when they dare to object.