First Cecil and now Nicholas: I stood by them all

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
Never let it be said that Wallace Arnold is not loyal. If any friend of mine were to so much as suggest that I was disloyal then I would make sure the whole world knew what I really thought of him. Fidelity is my middle name. To all true Conservatives, loyalty - to one's friends, to one's family, to one's party, to one's country - is the cardinal virtue, only to be discarded in emergency.

And that is why I will ne'er cease to remain loyal to my old friend and quaffing and quaffing and quaffing partner, Sir Nicholas Scott. As I made clear in my statement delivered on the steps of Chelsea Town Hall last Monday night, "As General Secretary to the Kensington and Chelsea Conservative Association, I wish to express my abiding loyalty to Sir Nicholas Scott. As our Member of Parliament these past 22 years, and as a government minister for 13 of those years, Sir Nicholas has contributed outstanding service to the nation, exhibiting the highest standards of professionalism and integrity at all times.

And now the time has come for us to stand by him, as friends, supporters and loyal colleagues and tell him, in no uncertain terms, "Enough is enough! Push off, you old rogue! Begone! Begone! Leave your keys at reception and never darken our doorstep again! Next, please!"

I am proud to count among my close friends a number of Conservative MPs who have suffered misfortunes in their careers. Needless to say, I have stuck with them through thick and thin.

Take Cecil Parkinson, for instance. When the Keays (dread word!) scandal first broke, I pledged him my total support, and damn the consequences. "Cecil," I said in private conversation, "you must stick this one out. Don't let yourself be brought down by pygmies. You are a minister of outstanding abilities. The country needs you."

I was to re-iterate this view on Newsnight shortly after he had announced his resignation. "Mr Parkinson has pursued the only course open to him. He has made a mistake, so resignation is the only honourable course," I said. "Our best wishes go with him into a decent obscurity. Far more interesting now to speculate over the appointment of his successor than to pick over the bones of this poor fellow's once-promising career."

As a footnote to this tale, I might add that when Margaret later reappointed Cecil to the Cabinet, I was among the first to congratulate him. "My loyalty has gained its reward," I said, "and my years of secret canvassing for your return to the Cabinet have finally paid off! Marvellous to have your talents back where they belong!" Sadly, though, Cecil made a complete hash-up of his Transport post, as I was the first to point out in a private memo to the Party Chairman: sometimes even the most devout loyalty can be misplaced, alas.

Loyalty! It's an unfashionable word these days, I fear. It is a sad rule of life that others do not always live up to one's own high standards. Only two years ago, a fellow-writer I once would have counted as a close friend failed to include my most recent hardback in his choice of "Books of the Year" for the Spectator magazine. Of course, I rose above it. "Whether or not he enjoyed my book above all others is entirely a matter between him and his conscience," I concluded philosophically.

As a footnote, I should add that the following year, determined to see the triumph of truth over back-scratching, wishing to cut through the self-congratulating coteries of Literary London, I took it upon myself to mention his most recent paperback in the Sunday Telegraph list of "Most Overrated Books of the Year". Disloyal as ever, the fellow never spoke to me again.

What does the future hold for Sir Nicholas now, I wonder? At this crucial point in his life, many of his friends will wish to stand up and be counted, though most of us would now elect to be counted among his enemies. Speaking personally, I have no hesitation in declaring my loyalty to the man.

Only yesterday, parading along the King's Road, I spotted Sir Nicholas shuffling along in his distinctive scruffy coat, looking very down in the mouth. Frankly, when I see a friend in need I am not one to cross the street - so I stayed firmly on my side and gave him a cheery wave across on his side. Sadly, I fear this characteristically generous gesture may have been lost amidst the roar and rumble of the traffic. But, as the good Doctor Brian Mawhinney always says, it's the thought that counts.

Our loyalty must now be to our leader, John Major, or whoever may displace him, and to winning the next election.