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Lord Bonkers’ Diary 322
27 November 2007 (10:46:06)


It was when poor Ming launched his ‘Community Canvass Week’ that I knew the writing was on the wall for him. I heard all about it in the Bonkers’ Arms one evening over a pint of Smithson & Greaves Northern Bitter. (The regular patrons of this excellent establishment learn to eschew the dreadful gassy Dahrendorf Lager). “I had that Mingis fellow of yours around this afternoon,” said one of my fellow topers. “He was asking me what I thought about the way the world was going and what the Government ought to do about it. It was strange,” he added, after taking a reflective draw upon his pint, “I should have thought that if he wanted to be Prime Minister he would have had a pretty firm idea himself.”


The pride and joy of my gardener Meadowcroft is his collection of rare hairy cacti. He gathers them from the arid south of Rutland and tends them in the way that a particularly attentive she wolf looks after her whelps. I well remember his fury when a young whipper-snapper from Westminster School burnt down the glasshouse where he keeps them. My first reaction was to hand the lad over to the Proper Authorities, but learning that he was some sort of nephew of my (how shall I put it?) old friend Moura Budberg, I relented and dealt with the matter myself. I informed the errant youth that he would work for Meadowcroft until he had made full and proper restitution for the loss of the aforementioned prickly crop. Over the years, Nick Clegg (for it was he) has had himself elected to the European Parliament and the Commons, but he still comes to the Hall regularly to do odd jobs. (What with compound interest and the strength of the Rutland pound, debts can take a long time to pay off). This afternoon, Meadowcroft and I find Clegg perched on a garden seat writing a speech. “Never mind being a scholard,” says my favourite horticulturalist, belabouring him with a broom, “get out and sweep up they leaves.” “I think Clegg has just left his comfort zone,” I observe as he rushes out to work in the garden.


That Brown fellow certainly kept us on our toes, didn’t he? All that speculation about an autumn poll had everyone rushing around. The last time I visited Cowley Street, I found Rennard ensconced in his War Room, together with a cardboard cut-out of the late Jack Hawkins and a bevy of WAAFS pushing little model canvassers backwards and forwards across a tabletop map of Great Britain. Brown made work for me here in Rutland too. Every candidate wants to be pictured with a wife and a couple of pretty children, but not all have them to hand. For that reason, my own Home for Well-Behaved Orphans does a good trade by hiring the little mites out to be photographed (fair-haired children always command a premium). I have to record, however, that there were some unfortunate occurrences during the 1974 October election campaign. The same little girl was pictured with the Conservative candidates in three neighbouring Lancashire marginals and one boy appeared on the election address of both the Labour and the Tory standard-bearer in a certain South Walian constituency. Ever since then I have kept a close eye on this side of the business.


Arriving in Oakham to visit the cattle market, I notice a long queue that winds around several street corners before doubling back upon itself. Upon enquiring the reason for such a lengthy crocodile, I am informed that it consists of investors in my own Rutland Rock Building Society. I take command of the situation by mounting a soapbox and addressing the throng through the collapsible megaphone that I always carry with me. I inform them that their savings are perfectly safe with the Society and that they should go home at once. To emphasise my point, I fire a couple of barrels of buckshot over their heads and inform them that I shall be calling out the local Militia forthwith. After they have dispersed, I visit the Society myself and insist on entering the vault to satisfy myself that all is well. Whilst down there, I take the opportunity to collect a few valuables before paying an unannounced visit to my accountant to discuss a rebalancing of my finances.


I am surprised this evening to find Meadowcroft at our weekly meeting of the Bonkers Hall Ward Branch of the Liberal Democrats. Ever since the Liberal Party merged with the ‘SDP Party’, he has spent Friday evenings in his potting shed with the Quivering Bretheren, amongst whom he is a leading light. There his fellow members read from the works of L.T. Hobhouse, sing ‘The Land’ and scourge themselves, before he entertains them with his clarinet. “I be ajoining the Liberal Democrats,” Meadowcroft beams this evening, “and – look! – I’ve brought my sackbut.” I give what I believe is known as a wry smile – I may even have attempted a hollow laugh – and turn my ear trumpet down a couple of notches.


One of the saddest things about the fall of my old friend Sir Menzies Campbell was the opprobrium that was heaped upon him for wearing sock suspenders. Our American cousins call them ‘sock garters’, but they are an altogether more substantial proposition than the garters worn by the best sort of Wolf Cub (and, incidentally, by Matthew Taylor when he first entered the Commons). It hardly need be said that I always sport sock suspenders myself. Not only is a gentleman not dressed without them: they can also be used to fire ink pellets to any part of the House if any of my fellow peers is Going On A Bit.


Whom should I meet at a café on the Great North Road but Huhne and Clegg? One is on his way to a television interview: the other is on his way home from a constituency dinner. I cannot recall which was to be interviewed and which had just dined, but then I often have trouble recalling which is Clegg and which is Huhne. Our conversation turns to the annoying way that both the Labour and the Conservative parties have been thieving our policies of late. “What we need, gentlemen,” I say banging the formica-topped table to emphasise my point, “is policies that no other party will want to steal.” I trust that my point is taken.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10. He opened his diary to Jonathan Calder

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