A number of people have come to me in recent days with their concerns about the
Reverend Hughes. It seems that he has taken to wearing white pyjamas during the
day, issuing blood-curdling screams and breaking perfectly innocent planks of
wood in half with his hands and feet. When I summon him to the Hall this evening
to have it out with him, he brings with him a book entitled Jujitsu for
Vicars. “The trouble is,” he says nursing a pulled muscle in his shoulder,
“I think I turned over two pages at once last night.” It transpires that the
padre has taken it into his head that he should be the next leader of our party,
and as a result wishes to appear “tough”. This toughness, indeed, is all the
rage: I had dinner with Oaten the other evening and he insisted on drinking
mineral water throughout the meal. The wine waiter came up to ask “Still or
sparkling?” I gave Oaten an appraising look and replied: “Still, I am afraid.”
“What is it that we Liberal Democrats all believe?” I asked whilst in
philosophic mood at a recent meeting of the parliamentary party. “I know the
answer to that one,” Kennedy replied at once, “We don’t believe in anything.” I
was rather taken aback by this, and said so in no uncertain terms. In response,
our leader unfolded his doctrine of “the clean slate”. As he sees it, and I hope
this is a fair précis, as soon as the general election is over Liberal Democrats
discard all their beliefs. The result is that, all around the country, people
who believe in nothing come together to form local Liberal Democrat branches.
Then, by exhibiting our lack of beliefs to the voters, we begin to win
parliamentary by-elections and to take control of county and district councils.
All seems set fair for the next general election until, as one of the Young
Turks in the Commons put it, “we go and spoil everything by starting to believe
in things again”. I returned to the Hall that evening to write a paper on the
reform of education.
I was sorry to hear that the New Party is threatening to expel Lord Haskin for
funding the campaign of our own Danny Alexander: if a chap is fighting
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey then he needs every penny he
can get. Besides there is an honourable tradition of politicians funding
candidates from opposing parties, if they are strapped for cash themselves, to
ensure a fair, democratic contest. I myself had a lot of innocent fun in the
1920s by putting up the deposit for a number of Socialist candidates in rural
seats and then encouraging the local urchinry to pelt them with rotten
vegetables, dead rats and so forth. It will be a sad day indeed when such
public-spiritedness is driven out of British politics.
Who will the leader of the Conservative party be? As I understand it, the
candidates are as follows. A Dr Fox who used to appear on the panel of
television talent shows but was later replaced by a Mrs Osborne. A young fellow
named Cameron – despite my best endeavours, I have been unable to discover
anything about him. (This might make him the Tories’ best choice). A fellow
called Davis who has a broken nose and is very popular with the Conservative
rank and file. (This undoubtedly makes him their worst choice). Lastly, Kenneth
Clarke, the noted jazzman and cigarette salesman, who traditionally loses to a
lesser candidate. Given what tradition means to the Conservative side of the
House, I have no doubt that he will do so again.
The death of Jack Slipper, the constable whose dogged pursuit of Ronnie Biggs
and the other Great Train Robbers won the admiration of the entire nation, has
put me in mind of our own Liberal detective Donald “Nipper” Wade – or “Flying
Wade of the Yard”, as he was popularly known. He made it his personal business
to bring to justice the notorious East End gangster Violent Bonham-Carter. I
need not repeat here the story of how he tracked her down to a teashop in
Budleigh Salterton where she was playing incognito in a string trio; nor need I
retail the tortuous extradition proceedings which ensued. Nevertheless, I hope
that by recalling this narrative to mind I have gone some way to convincing
Messrs Hughes and Oaten that this “tough liberalism” of theirs in nothing new.
It would be churlish of me not to mark the passing of two of the New Party’s
more appealing figures. First, Marjorie “Mo” Mowlam, whose tea-making was widely
held to have been instrumental in bringing about the acceptance of the Good
Friday Agreement by the people of Northern Ireland. Her style did rather grate
upon the Unionists: while one has to salute her courage in kissing the Reverend
Ian Paisley, she really should have been told that Ulstermen do not care for
That Sort Of Thing. Widely admired though she was, I never managed to form a
clear of idea of what it was La Mowlam stood for. Then there is the late Robin
Cook, who had the mien of a garden gnome who is listened to with respect at
Chatham House. He rather blotted his copybook by abandoning his wife at the
airport and jetting off to meet his mistress. As I remarked at the time, if I
had treated the First Lady Bonkers in such a fashion, she would have
commandeered a De Havilland and come after me. Even so, I judge that the New
Party will find they miss him more than they had expected.
Autumn has come to Rutland. Flocks of hamwees sit in the rowens and flocks of
wheways sit in the horwoods (or it may be the other way round – I was never top
in Nature Study), girding their feathery loins for the long flight south. One
problem these plucky birds face is the willingness of Johnny Frenchman to take a
pot shot at anything that moves (unless it be an invading German soldier). For
myself, much as I enjoy a good tian of hamwee or parfait of wheway, I cannot
regard this as cricket as it smacks too much of letting fly at fish in a barrel.
Nor even does pheasant shooting, where each man arrives with a small army of
loaders, valets and cartridge boys, appeal to me. No, give me the Rutland
partridge: shoot at this fellow and he will take cover and fire back.
That’s what I call good sport.
Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10, opened his
diary to Jonathan Calder
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