Through a glass, Starkey

Swift reviews the recent PopConversations between PopCon Director Mark Littlewood and Dr David Starkey

There are times when Swift tears himself away from dusty unread tomes – but let’s not be too hard on The Economist - and wonders where are the spirited and controversial learned men of yore. Smart, punchy, not emollient.

Who goes where Clarendon or Hume once trod? Macauly or Trevelyan? One could carry on, but academic life is now an assembly of dry-as-dust specialists who can tell you a very great deal about the late coinage of e.g. Justinian (and nothing much beside); or showboaters all too fond of the television screen who can bang out a book to go with something on the sexy Caesars (the top twelve, the ones that Suetonius did better).

Relax everyone.

Because, enter - with a great deal of passion - David Starkey. His PopConversation – the second of the series, was a rollicking and entertaining answer to where we have as a country gone wrong. You should watch it.

First, because it was not really a series of answers to questions posed by Mark Littlewood, who runs the PopCon machine and ran the session – it was more like a speech with minor interruptions, and Starkey is very good at marshalling complex arguments to cover apparently multi-dimensional topics, without losing his thread or becoming tedious.

Second, because technical issues frequently made it appear that Starkey, like some modern version of the Oracle of Delphi, was delivering his wisdom from the depths of a very deep and dark cave. This seemed entirely appropriate. The echoing voice, the tones of doom, yep, thanks production team.

But most of all because he cares. Here is man for whom devolution has been nothing but a mistake. A man who detects a want of courage among today’s politicians and finds that a cause of despair. A man who lives and breathes freedom of speech, yet sees that being destroyed. A man for whom the word ‘modernisation’ is not a term of blessing but a damnable sign of decay. A man for whom the increased powers of  the ECHR and the Supreme Court are the rotting trophies of the victory of Blairism.

Swift cannot capture every topic that Starkey touched on – please, you have to watch the whole-  but he does see a golden thread running through it all.

This country has discarded many and valuable ancient traditions in the pursuit of casual  popularity and spurious efficiency. It is not too late to reverse this disastrous trend, Starkey believes.

Appositely he referred to one of Swift’s favourite passages of TS Eliot (from Little Gidding) which Swift thinks he quoted from memory:

‘A people without history

Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern

Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails

On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel

History is now and England.’

Oh indeed, sir. O indeed.