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Lord Bonkers’ Diary 306
27 October 2005 (10:07:17)


I once ventured the thought that the words “Welcome to Blackpool” are the most frightening in the English tongue (defeating “See me in my study after Prayers” and “The next commentator will be Christopher Martin-Jenkins” by a short head). I was therefore filled with the darkest forebodings as soon as it became clear that neither Brighton nor Bournemouth would be able to play host to our annual jamboree this year. I personally rang the town clerk of every alternative venue I could think of – Filey, Camber Sands, Llanwrtyd Wells – but had no joy.

Then inspiration dawned. Why not bring the Liberal Democrat Conference to Bonkers Hall? The Ballroom could comfortably house the debates – indeed I flatter myself that my organ is larger than Reginald Dixon’s – and there are any number of rooms for fringe meetings and training sessions (provided the livestock is moved where necessary). I could put up many of my old friends myself, the Bonkers Arms in the village does bed and breakfast, and the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans provides accommodation that can fairly be described as suitable for those on a limited budget. All in all, it would have been the perfect choice. Yet when I put my offer to the bigwigs at Cowley Street, it was spurned, and I was told we were bound for that dismal caravanserai on the Lancashire coast whether I liked it or not. Very well. Let them hold their conference there: I have more important fish to fry.


I spend the morning worming my setters and supervising the unblocking of my drains, before sitting down to watch the afternoon film on BBC2 only to discover that it has been replaced by coverage of the Liberal Democrat Conference. I am a little grumpy at first, but am reconciled to this choice of viewing when I learn that I am to watch a debate on Europe and its regional policy. Besides, I am able to cheer myself up by throwing popcorn at the screen whenever Andrew Neil appears. The argument that wins the day in Blackpool is quite ingenious. Given that for every pound we send to Brussels a few pence come back to these shores in the form of regional aid, it follows that we become wealthier the more we pay. Conference acts to prevent a future Liberal Democrat government limiting our contribution to the doughty Belgians, thus ensuring Britain’s future prosperity. All in all, it is every bit as good as the movies.


Watching the Conference on the electric television again, I find that the pundits are interested in our debate on the GPO and the possibility of a defeat for the platform. Lord Razzall reassures them that “The sun will still rise in the east and set in the west if this motion is not passed.” Then Norman Lamb comes to the rostrum – to my great pleasure as I so enjoyed him on Children’s Hour all those years ago. It transpires that he has changed somewhat in the interim; I suspect he has been talking to Laws and “Low-Voltage” Cable, as he has plans to sell off the Post Office. Mind you, he intends putting the shares in the hands of the nation’s postmistresses, and I am sure they would give short shrift to anyone who attempted to interfere with Her Majesty’s Mail. Nevertheless, Lamb goes to the slaughter as our chaps reject his plans, with my old friend Tony Greaves eloquent in support of the case for maintaining the status quo. I track him down to his hotel on the telephone and ask why he did not consult me before he wrote his speech. He replies that he sent me a letter about it, but can only assume that it got lost in the post. Soon after I put the telephone down from this call, it rings again. Who should it be but our own Lord Razzall?


The small hours of the morning find me at that famous Rutland monument Stiltonhenge. As every antiquarian knows, its mighty stones were erected in the lost era before the Ancient Britons discovered the Focus leaflet and made the rise of civilisation possible. Lord Razzall has driven through the night to be at my side, bringing with him a number of members of the Women’s Liberal Federation, clad in their simple Grecian tunics. Unable to find someone to play the ceremonial flute at such short notice, I am obliged to make do with Meadowcroft and his clarinet, but at least our numbers are swelled by the goats and virgins I have left over from the rain dance I organised during the third day of the final Ashes test. I perform the ancient rites, as set out in Erskine May, and sure enough the sun rises in the East and casts a beam upon the stone altar in the middle of the circle. “Thanks for that,” says Razzall, “I thought it best to make sure. I’ll see you all back here this evening”


Charles Kennedy is making his speech in Blackpool, but one should not spend all one’s time watching the moving television, should one?


It was a great relief when we heard that the party was not going to be obliged to return the two and a half million pounds we were given in the last week of the general election campaign by that mysterious businessman. As soon as I heard the news I stood down my jumble collectors, as there will now be no need for us to hold an extra sale to help bridge what might have been rather an embarrassing lacuna in our finances. Mind you, as I remarked to Lord Rennard the other day, one should be wary of accepting money from eccentric figures if there are too many odd conditions attached to it. I met him whilst in London to present the Bonkers Award, made annually to the constituency party that has put on the best display of Morris dancing during the past parliamentary year.


Did you take part in that poll to find the nation’s favourite painting? Despite a late flurry of votes from here in Rutland for Van Geloven’s “Sunset Over Bonkers Hall”, the worthy winner was Turner’s “The Fighting Dromgoogle”. Who can fail to shed a manly tear at that noble figure, an amendment to the Standing Order covering the use of recycled bin bags clutched in his hand, being towed off to the scrapyard by a chubby-faced Clyde puffer? I feel sure I can say without fear of contradiction that we shall not see his like again.

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

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