Speaking in a purely personal capacity, I view the prospect of house arrest with
equanimity – particularly if no one spills the beans about the secret passage
that comes out in the cellar of the Bonkers Arms. I should devote myself to my
library, translating manuscripts from the ancient tongue of Rutland, and perhaps
mount an expedition to reach the fabled North Wing here at the Hall. As a boy, I
was served by an ancient footman who told me that his grandfather had described
a visit to it on his deathbed; I have always cherished the ambition of seeing it
with my own eyes. However, we must lay our narrow interests aside when principle
takes it turn at the crease. The New Party’s legislation is an outrage and we
must strain every sinew to fight it. If you should happen to come across a chap
called Sedgemore, mark his words well: he is particularly Sound on the subject.
To Scotland to enjoy that blissful period after it stops raining for the winter
and before the midges appear for the summer. Why, in a good year it can last as
long as three days! On my way to Brig o’Dread, my Highland shooting box, I pause
in the Borders to help in the campaign. The Boundary Commissioners have
abolished Sir Archy Kirkwood – a decision, I forecast, they will live to regret
– but our own Michael Moore is standing again. I have mentioned before that,
with his great height and distinctive burr, he is believed by many to be the
fruit of a dalliance between the rugger commentator Bill McLaren and a lock
forward from the New Zealand ladies XV. Yet today I find him strangely changed:
he sports a baseball cap and insists on showing his Oscar on every doorstep.
When he tries to convince me that Osama Bin Laden is the brother-in-law of both
President Bush and Prince Philip, I make my excuses and leave for Edinburgh
I am worried about this modern enthusiasm for giving everyone a postal vote. We
should not lightly discard the safeguards of the traditional polling station, as
there we can be sure that every vote is cast in perfect secrecy – unless a
Bonkers Patent Polling Booth Periscope is being employed, that is. Where postal
voting is widespread, skulduggery on the part of our opponents is not slow to
follow. When such dirty business is afoot, we would all do well to remember the
sage counsel of my agent in ’06: “If it votes Liberal, offer it a poster. If it
doesn’t, hit it with your orchard doughty.”
After a hard day’s campaigning, I settle down to watch the results on the moving
television. Why, I wonder, does the British Broadcasting Company still feel it
necessary to employ David Dimbleby when it is so clearly time he was put out to
graze? I know his father commentated upon every state occasion from the launch
of the Queen Mary to the conception of Princess Anne, but for each of us there
comes a time to return to the pavilion. I thrill to the gains we make, yet I am
also sad to see the loss of several good Liberals. I feel sure the poet Housman
had our defeats in Ludlow and Guildford in mind when he wrote: “With rue my
heart is laden/For golden friends I had,/For many a rose-lipt maiden/And many a
lightfoot lad.” He may well have been thinking of Weston-super-Mare, Newbury and
Leicester South when he went on to remark: “By brooks too broad for leaping/The
lightfoot boys are laid;/The rose-lipt girls are sleeping/In fields where roses
fade.” As to our national campaign (in which I spent several days as Kennedy’s
rear gunner), am I alone in detecting a lack of vim, a shortage of brio and a
distinct undersupply on the pizzazz front?
In the clear light of morning, as the sun rises over my spinney of rowen and
horwood, I can view yesterday’s events with a dispassionate eye. If they were
not the triumph for which we yearned, nor yet were they a disaster. A deputation
of bigwigs arrives from Cowley Street to ask me what the party should do next,
and I prescribe a period of reflection. We should read the great Liberal
philosophers of the Modern Age – Mill, Popper, Irving Berlin – and the Whig
historians (I mention Thomas Babington Macaulay Culkin in particular). Later I
hear from Scotland that the Liberal Democrats have held Gordon and the Scottish
Nationalists have held Angus; one wonders if more cold baths and cross-country
runs are not indicated. I also hear from the draughtier side of Hadrian’s Wall
that we have captured Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, yet gained only
one Member of Parliament for our pains. This hardly seems fair, and once again
the case for electoral reform is strengthened.
I ring Lembit Öpik to congratulate him on his result in Montgomery. We take the
opportunity to discuss the strange career of Paul Marsden, who emulated my old
friend Winston Churchill by ratting and then reratting. “What exactly did
Marsden say when you first talked about his joining the Liberal Democrats?” I
ask. “I think it was ‘Take me to your leader’,” the amiable Estonian replies.
Suddenly it all makes sense: Marsden was an alien and did not properly
understand our ways or our politics. (No doubt where he comes from it is the
done thing to cross the floor and there are chaps with three heads and green
tentacles doing it simply all the time). It is ironic, given Öpik’s concern with
objects coming from Outer Space, that he failed to spot that the former Member
for Shrewsbury was one of them.
It began as a barely imaginable dream and grew into a whispered rumour. We
gather around the wireless this morning to hear Alvar Liddell announce that it
has become a fact. Margaret Hodge is no longer the Minister for Children!
Spontaneous Morris dancing breaks out on the village green and the Bonkers’ Arms
flows with champagne and porter – as well as Greaves & Smithson’s Northern
Bitter, of course. Parents unbar cellar doors and their pallid, ragged sons and
daughters emerge blinking into the sunlight. From attics and priests holes they
are rescued; from hollow trees and hidden caves. Some mothers and fathers,
crying with joy and relief that at last the coast is clear, hammer on the doors
of the Bonkers’ Home for Well-Behaved Orphans. We pretend to be out.
Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South West 1906-10, opened his
diary to Jonathan Calder.
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