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Lord Bonkers’ Diary 348
04 September 2011 (18:02:33)

In a few short days, we shall meet in Birmingham – home of municipal Liberalism, metal basing and the Clement Davies Group. Moreover, we meet as partners in a coalition government. Moreover (if one is allowed to say ‘moreover’ twice), we meet as partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives. Every day, letters arrive from worried young activists, asking me how we should conduct ourselves in our unwonted situation. I generally reply that we should maintain our nerve – or ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, in the words of the poster campaign I devised during the dark days of the last war. In other words, we should maintain our principles while accepting the inevitable compromises of office – and give the Tories one up the snoot when they are not expecting it.

***

As loyal readers will be aware, I have long been at the forefront of new technology. Was I not the first person in Rutland to have a telephone? (I have to admit that it proved something of a disappointment as it never rang. When I enquired about this failure, I was told it was because no one else in Rutland had a telephone). Similarly, I was something of a pioneer of television, as I could often be seen casting a fly or gralloching a stag on the popular Bonkers Country programme broadcast from Alexandra Palace before the last war. By popular demand, or at least by my own demand, this show was resurrected when I won the independent television franchise for Rutland in 1955.

Ever one to move with the times, as I flatter myself I have established, I have long been enjoying the test cricket on Sky. I did not pay for a satellite dish, but rather set up a receiver of my own using a wire coat-hanger (Nanny is always throwing them out, saying that only wood will do) and a wok that Cook had taken against (“Nasty foreign thing.”) However, this digital television is another matter entirely, so I decided to call in an expert “aerial erector” (as his business card describes him). When he arrives at the Hall this morning, he turns out to be an engaging young man. He exclaims over the size of the old place (“I couldn’t be doing with all that dusting”), but does admire my dado in the Breakfast Room. He is also adamant that his is a skilled trade: “It’s not just a matter of pointing it at Sandy and hoping for the best.”

***

Back in the 1960s, when I served for some years on Party Council, I often found myself out of sympathy with majority opinion. Notably, when public disorder broke out, I frequently found it difficult to find a seconder for my proposal that we should send for the Rutland Fencible Cavalry. So I was pleased to see from the electric Twitter that Dr Evan Harris is now of my opinion.

I have been wondering why this should be so when he is otherwise to be found on the Advanced side of every question, and I think I have put my finger on it. Whenever he is on the point of making a scientific breakthrough – creating artificial life, as it may be, or putting the atom back together – the local peasantry turns up with pitchforks and flaming brands to drive him from his laboratory, before hurling his retorts, test tubes and Bunsen burner into the nearest stream. Is it any wonder that he is every bit as keen as I on calling out the militia? After all, the Reverend Hughes’s ping pong club does sterling work in keeping the local youth occupied, but there are times when only cold steel will do.

***

All technologies have their drawbacks, of course. Make no mistake: I welcome the development of the mobile telephone and I am pleased to see that the latest ALDC guidance recommends its use over the conventional field telephone in all but the most compact urban wards. With it, however, has come the development of “phone-hacking” – an unlovely phenomenon, even if it has led to the welcome demise of the News of the World.

There is, however, as I once observed in one of my more philosophical essays for the High Leicestershire Radical, “nothing new under the sun”. Those of us called to bear the heavy burdens of public life used to go in fear of “butler-hacking”. In those days, members of the yellow press would make it their business to find out the public house in which a chap’s butler drank when he was not butling, buy him a pale ale or three, and quiz him as to one’s diary and opinions. More than one cabinet minister was obliged to resign after having his butler hacked.

I, too, fell victim to this practice – not at the Bonkers’ Arms, where anyone poking his nose into what does not concern him would have the dogs set on him – but at another, less well conducted, establishment. Many fair-minded commentators have argued it was the publicity given to my views on Asquith that persuaded him not to include me in his first Cabinet.

***

For many years, my favourite pair of opening bowlers were J.K. Galbraith and J.K. Lever; I was happy whenever I could persuade them to turn out for my XI together. Galbraith’s height and his talent for exposing the inadequacies of laissez-faire economics with witty apercus, together with Lever’s ability to bring the ball back in to right-handers, made them a fearsome combination indeed.

These days, the only J.K. I know is J.K. Rowling, and her only appearance for me proved that she cannot bowl for toffees. I once tried reading one of her books, but could get nowhere with it. As I remarked to the Well-Behaved Orphans at the time, who wants to read about children who live in a vast gothic institution?

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

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