Stephen Pollard: How to become a national treasure

You need to be: lecherous, racist, inebriated, snobbish, anti-Semitic, witty, tweedy, vegetarian - and posh
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The Independent Online

I've worked out the secret to being loved. Turns out it's quite straightforward. Loved, that is, as a national treasure. All you have to do is make your choice from a checklist of various attributes and, instantly, you'll be loved and spoken of in only the most adoring terms.

Reader, I have a gift for you. I will now reveal the results of my detailed scientific inquiry into this most important matter. (I hope you appreciate just how public spirited I am in giving this patented information away gratis. Others would have earned themselves a fortune on the proceeds. And still, there's no chance of my becoming a national treasure.)

Take as many characteristics from the following list as you can and you'll be on your way. It's blissfully simple: the more you manage, the greater the certainty of adoption. We're not talking admiration or plain old affection here. We're moving well beyond the likes of Sir Mick Jagger or Sir Steve Redgrave. Knighthoods have nothing to do with it. We've got in mind genuine national treasurehood, of the sort which moves grown men and women to become simpering, jelly minded shadows of their cynical selves when confronted by it.

So here's the list for you to pick and mix. You need to be: lecherous, racist, inebriated, snobbish, anti-Semitic, posh, deranged, witty, bibulous, urbane, tweedy, vegetarian, adulterous, arrogant, tea drinking, paranoid, and public school educated.

It's that simple. Well, no. It isn't. There is a catch. I'm afraid you could possess the full house, but if there's one other quality missing then you're wasting your time. You also have to be over 70 - 80 to be sure. Indeed, if you can manage to be dead then you're guaranteed treasurehood.

If you doubt my theory, I humbly submit that you look back over last week's newspapers. What was the most talked about TV programme, a series so eagerly awaited that entire pages were devoted to the scandal that it was hidden away on BBC4? The Alan Clark Diaries. On his own, of course, the affection in which the odious Mr Clark is held proves nothing. He may have been - to tick off the checklist above - lecherous, racist, inebriated, snobbish, anti-Semitic, posh, witty, tweedy, bibulous, urbane, vegetarian, adulterous, arrogant, public school educated and dead (15 of the 18 - a veritable jackpot) but that could be just a one off.

But while one such example might be unusual, two begins to establish a pattern. Step forward Tam Dalyell, the Father of the House. Last Tuesday, Mr Dalyell announced his retirement from the Commons at the next election. The tributes flowed. Among the sea of praise, only The Independent considered it worthwhile reminding people of his remarks last year in which Mr Dalyell outed himself as an old school anti-Semite.

Interviewed in Vanity Fair, he said that Tony Blair is "being unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers". The cabal apparently comprises Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson and Lord Levy, Mr Blair's personal envoy in the Middle East.

That interview on its own would have helped push Mr Dalyell to treasure status, adding 'deranged' to his other qualifying criteria: of the three men cited as part of the cabal, only one - Lord Levy - is Jewish. The other two have some Jewish ancestry, but would only be classified as Jewish under Hitler's Nuremburg Laws.

But happily for Mr Dalyell, that was far from his only qualification for treasure status under the category, 'deranged'. Mr Dalyell has a long history of spouting such drivel, such as his obsession with the sinking of the Belgrano, his allegation that British intelligence was implicated in the death of Hilda Murrell, his desire to allow Saddam to remain in Kuwait, by opposing the Gulf War, and more recently to allow him to remain in power in Iraq, by opposing the Iraq War, and...oh, the list just goes on and on. A true national treasure.

There is, as Mr Dalyell's treasuredom shows, a further qualification. For full treasure status, the subject has to espouse causes and beliefs utterly antithetical to the overwhelming majority of the country.

Alan Clark, for instance, believed we should have concluded a peace deal with Hitler. So I'd now be writing this in German.

Take that other example, Tony Benn who also scores well on the checklist. His 'Evening With Tony Benn' stunts are a runaway success, and he is warmly received by the solid middle classes whenever he opens his mouth.

Of course, he's old, and that's what happens when politicians become pensioners. It doesn't matter that, if he'd had his way, we'd now be an outpost of Soviet Empire, after giving up our nuclear weapons, or that there'd be no economy left to speak of, after nationalising the top 250 companies.

That's all forgotten. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. No one likes Derry Irvine.