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Lord Bonkers’ Diary 342
26 October 2010 (00:54:18)

Autumn has come to Rutland. As I look out across the lawns from my Library windows, the skeletons of distant trees stand stark against the low skies. Nearer at hand stand piles of leaves – and from one of those comes muffled cursing and swearing. I fear that, in a surfeit of enthusiasm, one of the undergardeners has dumped them on top of Meadowcroft. But my thoughts are far away in the Welsh Marches...


Last week, in my capacity as under-secretary at the Department for Outer Space, I travelled to a top secret location on the border between Shropshire and Montgomeryshire. There, amongst the spoil heaps of the Victorian lead-mining, a strange erection hoved into view.

Like all ministers in the Coalition government, I have had to wield my surgeon’s scalpel in order to comply with the dictates of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Many of these cuts have been achieved by doing away with the sort of Labour nonsense we all familiar with: missions to suppress vice on Alpha Centauri, public education campaigns against sexism on Venus and so forth. I was also minded to do away with the warning signs about horse chestnut trees in the Crab Nebula until I discovered that they are so named because they can gallop at speed across rough country and are capable of giving a nasty bite if you let them sneak up behind you.

Other cuts I have made with a heavy heart. The British space programme, for instance, is no more and I am painfully aware this will lead to redundancies at Woomera. However, I am proud that I have been able to uphold the pledge made by so many Liberal Democrat candidates at the last election by continuing to train a full complement of British space cadets (a course of action enthusiastically urged upon me by our own Liberal Youth – when they are hiking through forests singing “I Love to Go A-Wandering” or sitting around camp fires). I realise they may be disappointed that there will be no spacecraft for them to crew, but feel that if they take up my suggested alternative – trampolining lessons – with sufficient vim and vigour then this need not prove an insuperable barrier to their career ambitions.

There was one spending item that I was determined not to cut and it was this that I travelled to the Welsh border to inspect. It is a model spacecraft. By this I do not mean the sort of model that the best sort of schoolboy spends his evening gluing together. No, I mean a rocket, crewed by fashion models and piloted by our own Lembit Öpik, which will be dispatched at the first hint of an asteroid that has the intention of colliding with Earth. (I am not exactly clear what Lembit will do when he reaches it, but I have every confidence in his ability to Use His Initiative).

There are those in the London chapter of the Liberal Democrats who are urging me to send him off on the thing this very afternoon. As a responsible minister, however, I am determined not to launch it until it is needed.


So what are our Conservative friends like? It has been what the young people call “a steep learning curve” for me as, until recently, I generally saw Tories from the saddle as we hunted them across the fields of Leicestershire and Rutland. I recall a good run a county councillor gave us until he went to earth near Billesdon Coplow...

Anyway, in the spirit of cross-party co-operation, I here offer pen of a few of my new colleagues.

My older readers will recall that popular programme from the early days of the moving television, “Have a Go with Eric Pickles”. With his catchphrases “Are yer courting?” and “Give him the money, Barney”, Pickles soon became a household name. He disappeared from our screens amid persistent rumours that he had eaten one of the Dagenham Girl Pipers, but later resurfaced as MP for Brentwood and is now Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

George Osborne, a scion of the biscuit dynasty, made his first worker redundant at the age of 10. His parents must have been so proud.

A little bird told me that, had the Conservatives won an overall majority, then Nadine Dorries would have been prevailed upon to accept my Outer Space portfolio. I take it as a tribute to Nick Clegg’s skill as a negotiator that he was able to win the post for a Liberal Democrat.

Iain Duncan Smith is known as “the quiet man”. I am told that he intends to revolutionise the Social Security system in Britain, but am unable to hear a word he says.

In 1977, at the age of 8, William Hague brought the Conservative Conference to its feet with his peroration: “I hate Socialism and, besides, you lot will soon be dead anyway”. Thirty-three years later, now aged 87, he is Foreign Secretary. Isn’t it strange how things turn out?

“Do you know Theresa May?” a civil servant asked during one of my first visits to my new department. “No,” I replied, “but I am grateful for the tip.”


In London yesterday I was astounded to bump into our own Dr Evan Harris. I had assumed that he perished when the locals, armed with pitchforks and flaming torches, finally succeeded in breaking into his laboratory in the surprisingly mountainous country between Oxford and Abingdon and flung his experiments into a passing mountain stream.

While in rude health, he turns out to be at something of a loose end and I am pleased to be able to offer him work on the British mission to Mars – albeit as a trampoline coach.


Dusk has now fallen in Rutland, Meadowcroft has been retrieved and brushed down, and I am in my observatory on top of the West Tower scanning the heavens with my telescope. A bright speck near Andromeda draws my attention: I study it intently for a few moments, then wind my field telephone, lift the receiver and ask for a number in Shropshire...

Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10, opened his diaries to Jonathan Calder

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