As the old year passes and a brand new year looms into sight, a decent period for taking stock is surely appropriate. How did I fare in 1996? What were my achievements and what, if any, were my lesser achievements? How many countless needy people did I help with unspoken acts of charity? How vital a role did I play as commentator in steering the Government through crisis after crisis, encouraging our leaders always to keep their eyes firmly on the mast. And how - big question, this - can I possibly improve on my performance as sage and benefactor in the year to come?
Any major political and cultural commentator worth his salt will wish to take a long, hard look at his work o'er the year that has passed. Happily, I come out of any such appraisal with flying colours. Looking back at my predictions for 1996, I note with a good deal of healthy satisfaction that I scored 100 per cent. This time last year, I predicted several major world happenings in the year ahead. Sure enough, every single one of them has come to pass. They were:
1995 Prediction: General Colin Powell will secure the Republican nomination and win the presidency. Ex-president Clinton will be destroyed by a personal scandal of major international proportions.
Correct. Though Gen Powell finally decided against taking the nomination - who knows, perhaps he read my article on the tough road that lay before him and had cold feet? - my prediction proved correct in virtually every other respect, particularly if one discards the comparatively minor detail of the sadly ill-advised re-election of President Clinton.
1995 Prediction: The fortunes of the Conservative Party will continue to improve during 1996. Putting all scandals behind them, they will make hefty gains against the rapidly dwindling New Labour, who may well be overtaken in the polls even by the Liberal Democrats.
Correct. Under my old friend and quaffing partner Dr Mawhinney, the Conservatives have gone from strength to strength, sometimes even managing to hold their deposits in vital by-elections. The so-called "scandals" that occurred - Willets, Hamilton, etc - were no more than the exuberant horseplay of the winning team. As I myself have said in the past (one for the quotation books, nota bene!) "there is no surer sign of a healthy government than that it may devise and maintain its own scandals". Meanwhile, the reputation of Not-So-New(!) Labour continues to plummet - witness the stunning blow to their chances delivered by the Spice Girls earlier this month.
Incidentally, whatever happened to decent, honest, sensible old-Labour types like Tony Benn*, for whom I always had a lot of time?
1995 Prediction: The Prince and Princess of Wales will resolve their differences. Together they will forge a new destiny, re-establishing the role of the monarchy at the heart of British life.
Correct. Though their divorce has now become official, at least in public, the Prince and Princess of Wales continue to lead a full and active life together, the intensity of their mutual love spanning a gap of hundreds of miles. I have every hope that they will soon be back together, to guide our nation through the hazards and challenges of a new century.
A remarkable record, surely? And now pray be hushed to allow me to don my fortune-teller's hat for the year ahead:
1. January: Sick and tired of Brussels, Britain breaks free from Europe. The immensely underrated HRH Prince Edward is appointed British Ambassador to the UN.
2. May: John Major romps home to victory in the General Election and appoints Sir Nicholas Scott his new Home Secretary.
3. September: HRH the Queen Mother agrees to play herself in the television series Wallie and Elizabeth, chronicling her at times frosty relationship with the Duchess of Windsor.
4. November: W Arnold appointed to the Order of Merit. Initially refusing honour on grounds of humility, WA eventually accepts after personal intervention of HM the Queen.
* see Wedgie: The Enemy Within, Wallace Arnold, 1981.