Remembering Conrad with David Starkey
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th November, 2009
Like many Liberal Democrats, I was deeply fond of Conrad Russell (1937-2004). When his slightly shambolic figure, dressed in a grubby overcoat and carrying his papers in a plastic carrier bag, hove into view, one knew that one was in for an intellectual feast as soon as he opened his mouth. The Chamber of the House of Lords would fill up when the 5th Earl Russell rose to speak. He was an eminent historian, notably of the 17th century, but he had his feet firmly planted in the contemporary world as well. He cared deeply about injustice and poverty and social exclusion, lacing his erudition with compassion and wit. So it was fitting this evening that a goodly crowd gathered to remember him at a memorial dinner organised by his younger son, John (a LibDem Councillor in Lewisham), in the Lloyd George Room (‘Lloyd George jailed my father,’ quipped Conrad) in the National Liberal Club. The keynote speaker was the historian and TV ‘personality’ David Starkey, who gave a predictably bravura performance, basically arguing that Conrad marked the end of an age. Dr Starkey was not at all complimentary about the standard of the current membership of the Upper Chamber, despite the fact that Baroness (Sally) Hamwee was sitting by his side. I’m not sure that some of Conrad’s progeny would have welcomed David Starkey’s claim that Conrad would have been an incomprehensible phenomenon except as a noble, an aristocrat. But he deployed his arguments with such sly humour, rhetoric and trademark camp arrogance that one surrendered to the bonhommie of the occasion, the good food and wine — and pondered how much Conrad would have savoured the prospect of the LibDems’ great surge in Lewisham in 2010.