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Lord Bonkers’ Diary 301
23 February 2005 (22:22:50)


At Westminster I encounter a naggingly familiar figure in a grey suit. “Hello,” it says, “my name is Mark Oaten.” I look him up and down. No moccasins, no tomahawk, no feathers, but eventually I recognise him. “Rising Star!” I exclaim, “What have you done to yourself?” “I’ve decided to bin the Red Indian shtick,” he replies. “It was all based on a misunderstanding anyway.” It transpires that someone had told him that he would have to be brave to take on Winchester, and he had heard them as saying he would have to be “a brave”. “Besides,” he adds pensively, “people were starting to call me ‘Tumbling Stick’.” I invite him to my Club for luncheon, but he declines as he has a busy day planned. First he is off to the gymnasium to make himself even tougher and then he is going to the Home Office. “I have an important meeting with Charles Clarke about tepee arrest – I mean house arrest,” he tells me.


Still at Westminster, I attend a meeting of the parliamentary party and demonstrate the Bonkers Patent Abdominal Protector for Canvassers. It is based upon the box worn by batsmen, but has been adapted to include both a jute bag that will carry an entire Focus round and a flask that takes a couple of generous measures of Auld Johnston (that most prized of Highland malts). Asked why I am promoting it at this juncture, I reply that, if we seriously intend sending our chaps out on to the streets of such towns as Guildford, Richmond and Cheltenham to tell the voters we shall allow them no choice in which school their children attend, they will need all the protection they can get. The chairman hurries us on to next business, but I am gratified by the number of MPs who come up afterwards to place firm orders.


Great excitement in the village this morning when Charles Kennedy visits us on his pre-election tour. When we learn that he is to arrive by aeroplane and be piloted by none other than Lembit Öpik we take a number of precautions: a cross is laid out on the green with white sheets, braziers filled with straw are lighted and the fire brigade stand beside the duck pond with their buckets, ready to form a human chain. All prove unnecessary when Öpik executes a perfect landing in his Sopwith Camel. Removing the battered colander he has taken to wearing on his head, the doughty pilot attributes their slight lateness to “a near miss with an asteroid over Cropwell Bishop” – or “Cröpwell Bishöp” as he insists upon calling it. While Kennedy is taken off for a tour of the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans and a slap up lunch at the Bonkers’ Arms, I have Öpik fly me over the Estate trailing a banner with the legend: “Remember your rents fall due on Lady Day.”


I am up before dawn to enjoy the last legal day of weasel popping in England. How can it have come to this? Have our legislators no understanding of country life? What will become of our nation’s celebrated packs of weaselhounds? Can these fools not understand that if weasels are not popped they will be controlled in other, less humane, ways? Nor is it only weasel popping that is to be banned: stoat tapping, badger nudging, squirrel toppling – all of them gone. I can hardly see through my tears, with the result that a particularly wily weasel nearly pops me. Relaxing in the bath this evening, I reflect that there remains one creature the law suffers to be hunted with dogs: the Trotskyite. (I have taken counsel’s opinion and am assured that this is the case.) Very well then. Tomorrow seditious pamphlets will be scattered in my coverts to encourage a plentiful supply of the creatures for next season. Tally ho!


Passing the cottage hospital, I espy Paul Burstow half concealed in the rhododendrons. When I ask what he is about, he replies that he is hoping to catch a glimpse of a doctor. “They’re such wonderful, wonderful people,” he sighs. I advance a more nuanced view, pointing out that not all medics are so admirable. I mention such names as Owen and Shipman, and remind him that, greatly though we Liberal Democrats admire him, whenever one visits Evan Harris’s laboratory in its mountain fastness between Oxford and Abingdon, the locals are besieging the place armed with pitchforks and flaming torches. My efforts prove fruitless. “When we are in government,” Burstow maintains, “we shall simply give the keys of the Treasury to the doctors and let them take as much money as they want. Then we are bound to get the best possible health service.”


The Manchester Guardian informs us that a German politician wants to bar people from wearing the swastika. I cannot make the Germans out: first they want everyone to wear the swastika, now they want no one to wear the wretched thing. I wish they would make their minds up.


Have you seen a moving television programme called “The East Enders”? If it presents a true picture of life in that neck of the metropolis then the East End has changed a great deal since Sir Percy Harris’s day – and not for the better. Nevertheless, our leader was in it the other day so we gathered around the set in the Servants’ Hall to watch. All that happened was that Kennedy stood at the bar nursing a pint of that dreadful gassy Dahrendorf lager whilst everyone else rushed around saying “Mind the stall” and “What’s that s’posed to mean?” in the roughest accents. I could not see any profit for the party, but the bigwigs at Cowley Street were Terribly Pleased that he has been asked to appear. Funnily enough, Kennedy is not the first Liberal leader to be seen in such a programme. In the 1950s Clement Davies starred in “The Grove Family”, which was the first British soap opera. He played kindly old Uncle Clement, who would resolve many a domestic crisis by puffing on his pipe and giving the younger generation a lecture on the ups and downs of marriage or Free Trade. The fame this won him was widely credited with enabling us to save our deposits in several of our target seats at the 1955 general election.

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

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