Fortunately, I have always been famously feisty

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
BEFORE embarking on the column, may I have a word in your ear? The market researchers have invaded our good offices this week, sieving the building for signs of the "fogeyish". Happily I have nothing to worry about. I have assured them that every week I receive thousands of letters from devoted readers telling me that, of all the writers on this newspaper, they regard me as by far the most feisty.

"Unlike so many of your colleagues, you keep us in touch with what young people are really thinking," says a Miss Arnetta Wallis, while Mr Willy Arnwald confirms, entirely in his own words, that "Your writing absolutely crackles with ballsiness. It is as modern and up-to-date as the latest 45 by The Moody Blues or The Swinging BlueJeans". Meanwhile, Miss (Msss!) Wanda Arlond says - and I quote - "You keep us young folk on the inside track about things that really concern us like the Conservative Leadership Contest and The Garrick Club and the latest book by James Lees-Milne. You are where it is at - please pass this on to the market-researchers."

This avalanche of support from the one group of people which really matters - you, the little readers - must surely guarantee my continued association with this paper way into the next century. I mention this simply to set the minds of my many young readers at rest. I have always believed that we can learn a great deal from the young - how to deal with spots, or how to keep one's room untidy - and the powers-that-be are now realising that they can ill afford to lose such a doughty champion of youth.

Lonnie Donegan, Tommy Steele, David Frost, Sandy Shaw, Tony Blackburn. This week and every week, I will be publishing just such a list of young, vibrant, "now" names to add yet more dash and colour to my column. It might also be noted that for the past fortnight I have been championing the cause of my young friend Mr John Redwood, whose sheer electricity speaks volumes to the youth of today.

And it is of Mr John Redwood, among other vibrant, youthful things, that the remainder of today's column is devoted. O'er the past week, I have been collecting together a goodly bunch of my political commentaries and predictions from the past decade. These are shortly to be published in a beautifully bound tome, complete with a striking photograph of the author shaking hands with Sir Norman Fowler outside Conservative Central Office. It will be titled A Fortnight Is A Doubly Long Time in Politics. I am delighted to say that my old friend and quaffing partner John Moore - whom in 1987 I cannily tipped as a future Prime Minister - has agreed to pen the introduction.

Looking back on my political predictions, I find myself pleasantly surprised at how often I got it right. Just this Monday, for instance, I predicted in the Daily Telegraph that, "by the end of the next week, Michael Portillo will be overseeing his first cabinet as Prime Minister, with John Redwood as Foreign Secretary, Tony Marlow as Home Secretary and Norman Lamont as Chancellor". Personally, I rate this prediction 95 per cent successful, particularly considering John Major has insisted upon remaining Prime Minister.

The role of political commentator is the most distinguished in journalism, and rightly so. How would the electorate begin to know the likely outcome of any election without first consulting Messrs Young, Riddell, Arnold, Watkins and Rees-Mogg? And how would they spot a future Prime Minister? Turning to an early section of my book, I note that I was among the first to spot the young Margaret Thatcher. "Though the Tory party will never allow a woman to occupy high office, Mrs Thatcher may have a promising future as a vociferous backbencher," I wrote as early as 1969.

Likewise, I was prophetic in noting the rise of the SDP. "Who will sit in David Owen's first Cabinet?" I asked in early 1986, concluding "I would strongly tip Bill Rodgers as Foreign Secretary". And as early as 1988, I drew my readers' attention to Mrs Edwina Currie's brilliant future, "perhaps as Chancellor, but more likely as Home Secretary". Over the years, I find I have been the first to tip Jeremy Thorpe, Tony Benn, Shirley Williams, John Stonehouse and Jonathan Aitken for Number 10, and though none of these predictions has yet paid off in its entirety, there is, I think you will agree, still plenty of time.

Next week: Bill Haley and The Comets, Georgie Best and The Hippy Hippy Shake and Edward Leigh: Our Next PM?