Friday 27 December 2013

A busy year: Lord Bonkers in 2013

As they year draws to its close, it is time to look back in Lord Bonkers' adventures in 2013.


In the February issue of Liberator, his lordship reported his experience of taking part in Call Clegg on LBC:
PRESENTER: Our next call is, er, Lord from Rutland. 
ME: What this I hear about you supporting secret courts, man? Have you taken leave of your senses? What the devil is behind this ridiculous idea? 
CLEGG: I can’t tell you that. 
ME: Why not? 
CLEGG: It’s a secret.

By the time of the April issue, an archaeological dig was taking place in the car park of the Bonkers' Arms:
"Having seen how well Leicester is doing out of Richard III, I have decided that we need to find a body of a king here in Rutland too ... I am saddened by this lack of progress, and a complicating factor is that we have to have everything put back by Friday because that is the day the Smithson & Greaves lorry comes. If it cannot make its deliveries, we shall all be reduced to drinking the dreadful gassy Dahrendorf lager."

In May there was a Liberator's blog exclusive as Jo Swinson visited the Hall. As the boys had gone off to try the vaulting horse they had just made, she addressed the girls:
I have to report that I am somewhat surprised by Jo’s approach. “Blimey,” she says to one girl, “you’ve been stirred in the ugly wok, haven’t you?” before describing another as “a bit of a munter”. Others are dismissed as “mingers”, “butters” and “complete double-baggers”. 
One wonders whether this is quite the way to attract the fairer sex into politics. I suspect the first Lady Bonkers would have clocked Jo one if she had addressed her like that.

June saw Lord Bonkers taking a party of tourists around the East End haunts of Violent Bonham-Carter:
I tell them of Bonham-Carter’s early struggles and patronage of Barbara Windsor (the black sheep of the royal family and, when they first met, a promising bantamweight) and take them for a drink at the Lame Deliverer – the very pub where Violent is said to have done away with the biscuit magnate Jack “The Hat” McVitie. 
The landlord, who witnessed this notorious incident whilst enjoying a ginger beer in short trousers, is quick to point out that McVitie was widely thought to be “getting lairy” and to be “well out of order” – it was, after all, Violent’s manor. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the affair, a good time is had by all and I depart for St Pancras with enough in tips to keep me in Auld Johnston for another year.

A month later and Lord Bonkers was posting a video of the Dalai Lama's monk blessing the turf at Lord's:
I generally ask the Elves of Rockingham Forest to do this here at the Hall. I forgot to pay them one year and it turned square before lunch on the first day.

In August he gave someone asylum:
Meadowcroft finds a youth, dishevelled and wet through, sleeping in his potting shed and hales him before me for judgment. 
“Please don’t send me back,” sobs the accused, “I have escaped from the Liberal Youth Activate weekend. I thought it would be fun, but all we got was endless canvassing drill and lectures on the perils of self-abuse.” 
I give him a hot bath, square meal, suit of clothes and ten bob for the train, but am left troubled. “What has happened to the Spirit of Liberalism, which was first brought to these shores by Joseph of Arimathea?” I ask.

A month later I made an exciting discovery: Earl Russell really did have a big band.

Also in September, Lord Bonkers contributed his usual foreword to the new Liberator Songbook:
Risselty-rosselty, hey, pomposity
Nickety nackety noo, noo, noo. 
There is no denying it: the Scots have a way with a lyric.

In September Sir Alan Beith made an important discovery:
“Good heavens man! You’ve found the spirit of Liberalism. I shall have it cleaned and polished at once.” 
“I expect you will give it to Clegg when you have done that.”
I consider Beith for a moment and then reply: “No, old fellow. I think you had better look after it.”

Which book should ambitious young Liberal Democrats read? In November Lord Bonkers recommended  A Fortunate Life: The Autobiography of Paddy Ashdown - "which is by Paddy Ashdown, incidentally".
I know of no book that sets out half so clearly what is needed to win an election campaign. I don’t mean the chapter on "The Winning of Yeovil" that was made available free on the electric internet recently, excellent though it is In Its Way: no, I am thinking about the section on jungle warfare in Sarawak where Ashplant explains how to mount patrols, the best way to lay an ambush and how to treat an open wound using red ants. It was no surprise to me when, armed with this knowledge, we took control of South Somerset District Council.

Also late in the year, Lord Bonkers recounted his meetings with great philosophers, while I made an important archaeological discovery that casts light on his ancestry.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Carry On Conference?

News reaches Liberator that the Federal Executive tomorrow (Monday) is being asked to support a proposal to reduce the Liberal Democrats' Spring Federal Conference to - well, precisely what is not exactly clear.

The good news for those who responded to the Autumn consultation - including the Federal Conference and Policy Committees who responded in favour of the status quo - is that the FE is being asked to reject not just the scrapping of Spring Conference entirely, but the idea of a one-day conference in London. That particular idea came under criticism for removing such income as the Party gets for fringe meetings while forcing those living away from the capital to shell out for its notoriously expensive hotel rooms in order to take part in the conference.  Moreover, the amount of time spent on fixed agenda items such as party business and a speech or two would render serious policy debate nigh on impossible.

Instead, the FE is asked to adopt a sort of compromise: a conference not starting until Saturday lunchtime but still finishing on the Sunday in time for a nice roast lunch.  (Remember: this is supposed to be an exercise in cutting costs, so how a two-half-day Conference is supposed to achieve this is unclear too). Some lip service is finally paid to providing online access to some Conference sessions including consultative sessions (an idea rejected on grounds of cost a mere six months ago).

There is also no news on the security costs highlighted in Liberator 362; nor of the request to the Federal Appeals Panel to rule on what constitutes a weekend. And neither is there any sign of the actual results of the consultation.

The question is: will the FE back what has to be presumed to be the overwhelming will of the party, and support Spring Conference for the training, policymaking, party accountability and networking session on which no value can be put?

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Sri Lankan Government repaid charity with slaughter.

After the 2004 Tsunami the UK public donated £390 million in charity to help victims. Over £100 million went to Sri Lanka without any discrimination about ethnicity. The Sri Lankan government just a few years after that engaged in horrific war crimes and slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians. Maybe even charity should be tied to human rights in the future - a Government should cut its military spending before it can be given aid, and armed groups lay down their arms. There was a great feeling of optimism that the disaster of the South Asian Boxing Day Tsunami might encourage an end to the bitter nasty conflict in Sri Lanka with atrocities committed by the Tamil Tigers and Government forces. The two sides might realise that helping people and living in peace to redevelop the whole island was a better way. That optimism was misplaced. Perhaps in the future Governments and opposing groups should have to demonstrate a commitment to peace and human rights before they can be given aid. And international aid agencies should not replace local and national authorities, or local organisations, but work with them directly - as much of the best of foreign aid does - to try and ensure aid cannot be abused to support sectarian or corrupt causes.

Sources on human rights abuses: ‘No Fire Zone’ Channel 4, UK, and any search of the BBC and reputable news sources.

Sources on charity donations:


DEC Tsunami relief fund - Reports back on three year spending plan, 19/12/2007

South Asia: Independent evaluation of the DEC tsunami crisis response, 31 December 2005

Monday 2 December 2013

Don't let be beastly to the Germans

It's perhaps a strange manifesto that is written not to appeal to voters - who are unlikely to ever see it - but to avoid handing ammunition to opponents, who will.

That is what the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe did in London last weekend, preparing its manifesto for May's European Parliament elections, and an eye-opening process it was too.

I assume that in the fullness of time the manifesto will appear here. Meantime, to convey a flavour of the process we had a fairly short manifesto draft but then 187 amendments to get through.

Some were just textual (changing 'our European currency' to 'the European currency' for the benefit of non-euro members, for example), some were 'nice to have' additions that no-one would go to the wall over except on grounds of length.

The big rows came in three areas: eurobonds, rebates and the environment.

These required a combination of talks in rooms that would have been smoked filled were it not banned, contorted wordings and ultimately competitive votes.

Eurobonds were a major area of contention since Germany's FDP regards them as politically toxic, as  they would in effect see Germany pay for the eurozone's debts. For the same reason, parties from countries with large debts think they are a splendid idea. The Germans couldn't live with them in a manifesto, debtor countries couldn't live without them.

Lib Dem MEP Andrew Duff came up with a neat solution that stressed the need for financial discipline and fiscal stability and which avoided the eurobond problem by not mentioning them, thus leaving the whole subject open.

That though was not enough for the FDP, who right up to the end were threatening to oppose the entire manifesto, though they ultimately allowed their delegates to vote as they chose.

Rebates were major issue for the UK and certain other countries. The very economically right-wing Venstre, one of two Danish member parties, wanted them all scrapped. The Lib Dems could for obvious reasons hardly enter an election subscribing to a manifesto that made any such call. This again took convoluted wording but ended with the UK delegation getting its way.

The third problem was the environment. Some of the more right-wing parties are not very sympathetic anyway, but the word 'green' is a provocation in itself to parties in countries with effective Green parties, so amendments calling for 'green growth' - innocuous in the UK - caused difficulty and had to be worded differently.

All this led to a surprising number of contentious votes - a process not helped by the collapse of the electronic voting system.

The ALDE manifesto does not bind member parties, who can add to or subtract from it whatever they please. It is thus a sort of general steer to member parties' campaigns but not necessarily their actual manifesto. Discussions among British delegates were notable for concern about what 'the media' would make of some or other parts of it rather than any impact on voters.

Like Liberal International, ALDE Congresses (and this was my first) can seem a bit unreal at times with national delegations solemnly negotiating wording that hardly anyone in their country will read. The process is though always interesting, seeing the perspectives liberals in other countries have from their differing history and circumstances.

However, even if the way parties in the EU conduct themselves can seem cumbersome and faintly absurd, as the session chair reminded us outside it in Ukraine people were that weekend risking their lives to vote, electronically nor not.