It is only fitting for Lib Dem Voice to mark the 17th anniversary of the publication of Lord Bonkers’ diary with this special cut-out-from-your-computer-screen-and-keep souvenir special. Through the good offices of his literary secretary Jonathan Calder, who writes the blog Liberal England, Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for us.
I have been asked by the editors of this moving electric blog to share some of my long experience of Liberal politics with you. Many of you will already know me from my Diary in Liberator magazine, where it has appeared since 1990: those who do not should take out a subscription immediately.
First, let me introduce myself. I think my entry in Who’s Who in the Liberal Democrats puts it Terribly Well when it describes me as “Statesman, Soldier, Diplomat, Philosopher, Traveller, Industrialist, Author, Philanthropist and All Round Good Egg.”
I represented Rutland South-West in the Liberal interest between 1906 and 1910, and have long sat in the Lord, where I have held a number of spokemanships, latterly serving as the Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Outer Space.
My ancestor Robert de Bon Couer came over to England with the Conqueror in 1066. Some historians maintain that he was obliged to go back shortly afterwards, but whatever the truth of this, the family was soon established at what is now Bonkers Hall in Rutland. An imposing edifice built in a number of architectural styles, it has been variously built, demolished, restored, burnt down, moved and refurbished over the centuries. It commands the broad valley of the Welland and offers unparalleled views of the shipping channels of Rutland Water.
It’s extensive gardens are lovingly tended by generations of Meadowcrofts, while the many farms on the Bonkers Estate are prosperous and well ordered. A peculiarity of the local government boundaries in these parts means that all my staff and tenants vote in the same ward. Funnily enough, I have represented this Bonkers Hall Ward without interruption since 1910.
Down in the village you may find that celebrated hostelry the Bonkers’ Arms, which serves the best kept pint of Smithson & Greaves Northern Bitter that you will find anywhere. (I find the Dahrendorf lager too gassy for my taste – it has me going off like a pop gun all night.) Across the green from the pub rises the slender spire of St Asquith’s; there the Revd Hughes is taking Divine Service. You certainly get your money’s worth from his sermons.
You may also notice the gargoyles and pinnacles of the Bonkers’ Home for Well-Behaved Orphans. A striking building, it was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. If it looks familiar it is because the Midland Railway later adopted a rather toned down version of the same design for their new terminus at St Pancras.
I am immensely proud of my charitable work here. In particular, we encourage the little mites to play a full part in the community (please write to me, marking your letter ’Cheap Labour’ for further details ). I never cease to be gratified by the energy and enthusiasm they display: when I went there this morning I found one group busily engaged in building a glider, whilst another was happily vaulting over a wooden horse they had made themselves.
But enough about me. Let me leaf through my diaries and bring you a few examples of what people are kind enough to call my wit and wisdom.
Here, for instance, is something from the first of my diaries to be published in Liberator magazine:
To Westward Ho! for some dog shooting, one of the traditional sports of those parts. I manage a good bag: two alsatian, a doberman and three Yorkshire terrier, as well as a Danish tourist who carelessly wanders across my line of fire. At dinner I sit opposite a peculiar cove in dark glasses who spends the entire meal endeavouring to convince me that he is the King of Romania. This reminds me of the time when a little fellow called Ceausescu asked me over there for what I thought was to be a spot of “pheasant shooting”; only when I arrived in Bucharest did I realise that a poorly-tuned ear trumpet had led me to make rather an embarrassing mistake.
The following year the first Gulf War broke out. If my long experience of life has taught me nothing else, I have learned that going to war is seldom a wise policy. I therefore pondered what I could do to being the hostilities to a close:
Yesterday’s melancholy has abated and I am now determined to do something to end this dreadful war. Miss Fearn, with her warm heart, is knitting cosies “for the poor camels”, but I feel that I am yet capable of playing a larger part. However, one must take care not to tread on others’ toes – I recall the distinctly frosty reception I was given when I turned up at Greenham Common with my bell tent to lend my support to the ladies camping there. This is an injustice that still rankles, for I was always a staunch supporter of women’s suffrage. Was I not the first to salute the courage of Miss Emily Davison in throwing herself under the King’s horse at Epsom – even though I had managed to back the beast at distinctly favourable odds?
Later in 1991 I found myself in Moscow as the evil Soviet regime collapsed:
Arriving back in Red Square this evening I come across Paul Foot (a grandson of my staunch old friend Isaac, I believe) making a speech to the assembled populace. There can be no doubt that he is a dangerous revolutionary – his housemaster has had cause to mention the length of his hair on more than one occasion – but I fear that his oration is not well received. “Comrades,” he begins, “we all know that Socialism-as-it-has-been-practised has led to the deaths of tens of millions of your fellow countrypersons, but a truly Socialist state would…” At this point he is met by a hail of chess pieces, those ingenious wooden dolls that fit inside one another, and leather-bound volumes of the collected speeches of Leonid Brezhnev (published by Mr Robert Maxwell) and forced to retire. I trust that I do not flatter myself when I say that my own address on Free Trade and Land Reform is better received – and a great deal more relevant.
Forward to 1997, when the Liberal Democrats gained so many seats at the general election:
As one who sat on our benches in 1906, I feel that I speak with more than my usual authority when I emphasise the advantages of having a large group of one’s fellows around one in the House. Since the election, any of our people getting up on his, or indeed her, hind legs has done so to the accompaniment of murmurs of “Slay ‘em, Five Brains” or “Attaboy, Bollard”. Quite an impressive bunch, our new crew in the Lower House. Take Michael Moore, for instance, who – to general rejoicing – has replaced Sir David Steel as member for Peebles or some such place. Standing something over seven feet in his stockinged feet and speaking with the distinctive burr of the Scottish Borders, he is widely thought to be the happy result of a brief romance between the rugger commentator Mr Bill McLaren and a lock forward from a visiting New Zealand ladies team. Steel, incidentally, as a new boy, is now my fag in the Lords.
If you read my Diaries regularly (and all the best people do) you will find that I am tolerably well connected:
I first met Paddy Ashtray in the library at Bonkers House in Belgrave Square. Shortly preceded by a stun grenade and an impressive quantity of smoke, he had burst in through the French windows. After I had picked myself off the floor, dusted down the butler and pointed out that he probably wanted the Embassy next door, he was all apologies. This, I reflected even then, was the sort of chap one could do with on one’s side in a closely fought by-election. His selection as candidate for Yeovil cheered me greatly, and I was not surprised when, aided by the famous slope, he captured the seat in 1983.
And so forward to the present day and the current Leader of the Liberal Democrats:
One of the finest sights I have ever seen upon the athletic track is the young Menzies Campbell. Like a Greek god, albeit one clad in singlet, shorts and plimsolls, he bestrode the cinders of the White City. His continued victories there were particularly impressive, for he frequently competed against Jeffrey Archer, who was known for his uncanny ability to anticipate the starter’s pistol – often by several seconds. Once Archer hid a bicycle in the long jump pit and set off riding it, but Campbell still overhauled him. Is it any wonder that when the future Liberal Leader wed the lovely Elspeth it was widely remarked that the fastest white man in the world had married the fastest woman?
If you like This Sort Of Thing and you are attending our party’s Conference in Brighton, I suggest you come along to the Liberator stall to subscribed to the magazine. I am assured that it is now possible to subscribe over the electric internet too.