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Lord Bonkers’ Diary 327
20 July 2008 (16:52:54)


As ever, high summer will find me residing at the Hotel Splendide, Antibes. Having spent more holidays at this fine establishment than I care to remember, I have naturally become a part of the life of the town. In particular, it is the only resort on the Riviera that has a regular Focus delivered to every door. I write it myself – whether dictating it over dinner at the Hotel or sending it by electric telegraph from Rutland. Because the temperamental French refuse to make the slightest effort to learn English, I am obliged to have the entire newsletter PRINTED IN BLOCK CAPITALS (like so, what?) so that they can understand it.


It is cook’s evening off, so I send out for haddock and chips. I am saddened to learn from the wrappings – our national dish tastes so much better eaten from the paper, don’t you think? – that poor Lembit has been given the bum’s rush by those spirited Cheeky Girls. I always feared that their love was too urgent, too ardent, and might one day burn itself out. I am reminded of the Esquimaux couple I met while working as a fur trapper on Baffin Island: they made passionate love throughout the long Arctic night, but in the end she broke it off.


The morning’s newspapers foresee choppy economic seas ahead; we shall all have to tighten our belts, batten down the hatches and so forth. It makes me glad that I had the wisdom to lay down a good cellar of Stilton many years ago and also that I went in for this self-sufficiency business at the same time – one can only save so much by watering the Orphans’ gruel. I was inspired by watching The Good Life on the moving television – that amusing programme starring the delightful Felicity Kendal. Catching sight of it upon my set once, Meadowcroft described her bottom as resembling “two mommets a-canoodling”. Be that as it may, she inspired me to live entirely on the produce of the Bonkers Hall Estate: bread made from flour ground from our own wheat; fish caught by my trawlers on Rutland Water; pineapples from my hothouses; and so on. Rather proud of my achievement, I once invited that well-known environmentalist Malachy Dromgoogle to visit. I showed him all around the Estate and he then asked “But is it sustainable?” “Well, it certainly sustains me,” I replied.


One thing the aforementioned Dromgoogle was particularly keen on was wind power. I showed him the windmill on the Estate – it sits atop the highest hill, next to the Triumphal Arch celebrating Wallace Lawler’s victory in the Birmingham Ladywood by-election of 1969 – but he was not satisfied; wind turbines, he insisted, were the latest thing. Well I had them installed and a fat lot of use they turned out to be. They cost a fortune to run – I hate to think what my electricity bill would have been if it were not for my treadmill and my hydro-electric plant – and I am not convinced that they made the wind a single jot stronger. I had the thing demolished and Dobbin insisted on towing it to the nearest scrapyard (after he had finished writing a letter in praise of our then Leader to Liberal Democrat News).


In Westminster to settle some business before I leave for France, I come across Clegg in expansive mood. “All those party committees. What is the point of them? When I decide it is a good idea to tell everyone how many sexual partners I have had, I don’t want a load of people in anoraks questioning my judgement. And what about David Heath? When I made up my mind to sack him for not abstaining on a referendum on the Nice Treaty because we wanted one on Britain’s membership of the European Union – albeit that we voted against one when someone else proposed it in the Lords – I just went ahead and did it. I didn’t want a lot of women with badges on telling me I was wrong.”

It is always a sign of danger when leaders get like this – and all do eventually, though it took even little Steel a few years. I recommend giving Clegg both volumes of The Open Society and its Enemies by my old friend Sir Karl Popper (he was Terribly Clever) to read. And if that does not work we can always try hitting him over the head with them.


I was sorry to read of the death of the comic actor Hugh Lloyd: he was one of the Liberal Party’s celebrity supporters in the days when such creatures were indeed in short supply. What is now forgotten was that he had his own radio comedy – Mind My Majority! – in which he played a hard-pressed agent. Many young thespians – Maggie Smith, Albert Finney, Basil Brush, Rodney Bewes – first came to public notice in the show and, in its day, Lloyd’s catchphrases “Eeh! I could write a shuttleworth!” and “You’ll have the Acting Returning Officer to answer to!” were on the lips of every schoolchild.


The tractor has made only slight inroads here on the Bonkers Hall Estate; for the most part I prefer to use shire horses to haul my agricultural machinery. One beast in particular has my undying admiration: after a full day’s ploughing, it enjoys nothing more than delivering Focus around the neighbouring villages. I will sometimes call by its stable in the evening for a word about the current political scene. Why, I asked Dobbin, was Clegg not putting up a candidate in Haltemprice and Howden? If one of your chief opponents gets a rush of blood to the head and resigns from the House, you are under no obligation to smooth his passage back. Yes, we agree with him on 42 days and so forth, but then we agree with all sorts of people on all sorts of things. It does not stop us standing against them come election time.

Dobbin listened to all this with his head inclined and then replied: “Mr Clegg is a very clever man and I am sure he will decide what is best for the Liberal Democrats. All I know is that I must work harder for the party. Never mind Haltemprice and Howden . Tomorrow I shall be going to Henley to deliver lots more leaflets.” It shows a wonderful spirit, of course, but I am not sure I shall give Dobbin my first preference this time if he decides to stand for the Federal Executive again.

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

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