Friday, April 25, 2008

Lord Bonkers on Matthew Taylor, Nick Clegg and GQ

From Liberator 325.

Well, well, well. So the story has finally come out. I suppose it was inevitable.

The name "Percy Harris" will mean little to my younger readers, but he was quite the fellow in his day. Percy was elected in the Liberal interest at a by-election at Market Harborough during the Great War and was a frequent guest at the Hall in those dark days. The soundest of fellows, he stood by Asquith in 1918 and was thus denied the "coupon" by Lloyd George and his Tory allies, ensuring his defeat. He soon re-emerged as a Liberal MP in the East End and his strong following amongst the Pearly Kings and Queen (many of whom could drink more wine than he'd ever seen) ensured that he held that seat until 1945. The point of my story is that Percy’s granddaughter (a charming girl) fell pregnant during the louche days of the 1960s and a baby boy war born. Despite my strongest urgings, the family saw to it that he was adopted by a kindly scriptwriter and his wife and I assumed that was the last I would hear of the business.

A few years later, however, news reached me that a small boy had won the All Cornwall Primary Schools L. T. Hobhouse Recitation Contest at a preternaturally early age, and I soon guessed who the child he was. It was thus no surprise when, upon the sad and untimely death of David Penhaligon, Master Taylor (for it was he) emerged as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Truro. He soon proved a useful addition to our front bench (bedtime permitting). Now the tale is all over this morning’s newspapers; I spend the day at the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans refreshing my memory on the pedigrees of our young residents.

To Windsor for a banquet in honour of the French President M. Sarkozy. In the past I have found our Gallic cousins Rather Hard Work - one got the impression that General De Gaulle could never quite forgive Britain for liberating France - but the present incumbent proves a jolly little fellow. I am particularly taken by his wife, whom I rescue from the Duke of Edinburgh as is telling her (in more detail than is strictly necessary) the best way to disembowel a stag. We get on famously until the Prime Minister - a dour Scotsman by the name of Brown - muscles in on our conversation and tries to interest her in "post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory". I soon get my revenge: Brown asks me the way to the dining room and I send him off through the billiard room down the back stairs and out into the kitchen garden, before taking the delightful Mme Sarkozy into dinner on my arm. The Queen is amused.

I come across a magazine called GQ and, when I am told that the initials stand for Gentlemen’s Quarterly, I purchase a copy as it sounds My Sort Of Thing. Imagine my delight when, upon perusing the contents page, I find that there is an interview with out new leader. I order a pot of Earl Grey and sit down to read it, but I am soon disconcerted. I find that Clegg makes light of the notorious incident in which he set fire to a priceless collection of rare cacti -- I don’t know if they sell GQ in Rutland, but if they do it is lucky for Clegg that Meadowcroft’s choice of reading matter runs more to The Horticulturalist’s Journal. Then - dear God! - Clegg goes on to boast of the number of women he has slept with, which is something no gentleman should ever do. I certainly should not have done it myself when there was talk of my leading the Liberal Party - particularly if I thought there were any chance of the magazine falling into the hands of the first Lady Bonkers.

To Brick Lane for the launch of the Liberal Youth, and not without a little trepidation as the name conjours up visions of footer bags, hearty folk singing and long hikes through the forests of the East End. I am thus reassured, when I arrive, to find a party in full swing and not a pair of lederhosen in sight.

I settle beside my hearth for a long awaited treat; a tumbler of Auld Johnston - that most prized of Highland malts - is at my elbow and a hardback copy of my old friend Ming Campbell’s memoirs is open on my lap. I begin reading and am fascinated to learn of Ming’s schooldays in Glasgow and his exploits as an Olympic sprinter, and chuckle at his anecdotes of life at the Edinburgh Bar. Yet when he turns to are former leader, poor Charles Kennedy, and his struggle with the demon drink, I find my attention wandering. When he turns to Kennedy again I almost nod off. When he turns to him a third time… I awake to find that the fire has burned low and my setters have put themselves to bed. In short, it is a fascinating read, but why Ming’s publishers insisted that he bore us all with constant talk of Kennedy I cannot imagine.

To Rutland International Airport for the opening of its new terminal. Vast airships nuzzle the terminal tower having arrived from as far afield as Croydon, Königsberg, the Straits Settlements, Newfoundland and Bechuanaland; attentive footmen carry ones bags to ones Bentley; the Amy Johnson Bar dispenses pints of Smithson & Greaves Northern Bitter to all-comers. In short, it is everything a modern airport terminal should be. I hope the people at Heathrow will take notice.

Lunch at the Hall with Matthew Taylor -- so much more enjoyable now that he is able to take wine with his meal. I tell him all about his great-grandfather and the Harborough by-election of 1916. I am never to blow my own trumpet, as my readers will know, but I trust that I give a fair account of my part in getting the Liberal vote out in Cranoe, Glooston and Carlton Curlieu.
Later a caller arrives with tidings of a small girl who has won the North Wales Paraphrase T. H. Green Without Falling Asleep Award for the second time at the age of eight. Here we go again.

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

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