No ruddy little men in the courtesy lounge

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The Independent Online
NONE OF those Tory red faces over the past week (well, almost none) was as red as my face when I saw that Lord McAlpine's right-hand man as fundraiser for the Tories had been, until his recent retirement, Major General Sir Brian Wyldbore-Smith. Red-faced because my mind immediately ran back to the run-up to the last general election and a phone-call I received earlyish one morning.

'Wyldbore-Smith here,' said a voice, claiming to be the man himself, 'and if you want to help stop that ruddy little man from getting to Number 10 you'll slip us 50 thou', and pronto. I tell you, we're absolutely strapped, practically washed up, and you just can't do these things on the . . .'

'Oh, very funny,' I said. 'Look, who is this?'

'Wyldbore-Smith,' said the voice.

'Yes, yes, very funny - look who is this? It's practically dawn.'

'I'm very sorry,' said the voice of 'Wyldlbore-Smith', not sounding sorry at all. 'Must be another . . .' and he seemed to choose the word carefully, 'ruddy wrong number.'

And so I missed the chance to find out what 50 thou', or some fraction thereof, would have bought. Is it true - can it be true? - that 50 thou' would have bought right of entry to the VIP lounge at Tory party conference? Is that the price of one year's entry, or a founder membership? Is there a bit of plastic, like a Frequent Flyers' Business Lounge Open Sesame Platinum Scheme?

I love 'lounges' (not in the home, of course), particularly the ones in which you're allowed to use the courtesy phone, and where there are canapes placed by unseen hands, and they trust you not to abuse the drinks cabinet. I'd have been a major contributor to the Tory party years ago - and to the Labour Party, and to whatever the other one is called - if I'd realised that these things could be bought, just like that. I'm sure a lot of other people would as well.

The Tories should, of course, open up and publish their rates. They should do what the credit card companies do, offer special nights at the opera or the latest Lloyd Webber musical, special exclusive shopping evenings at Harrods, and they should spell out what 'access' really means, and what it doesn't mean. Then the whole scandal would vanish overnight.

If, for instance, access meant that you got to offer Mr Michael Condoms's estranged wife the use of your car for two weeks - and that was all there was to it - I reckon this would be more of a Bronze than a Platinum Card value.

We could tick off our options. Me, for instance, I don't want access to Kenneth Clarke or to Kenneth Baker. In the first case, I don't value the experience of being treated like a nincompoop - fool, maybe, but not a nincompoop - by a man who is being lavishly cheered on in a style of argument that sets no value on truth. In the second case it's a matter of not wanting to be drowned in slime. So my 'Access Card' (as the scheme would be called) would have a No- Kenneth both-way facility. I would have no access to them, and they would have none to me.

I'd like access to Michael Portillo, in order first to make some very discouraging remarks about his hair and secondly to say to him that I don't believe the claim made in all the profiles that he is the son of a Spanish lyric poet who fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. This sounds like an adolescent fib that he's been stuck with, but the truth is that if he had really had such a father he would know that his name should be pronounced Port-eel-yo, with the accent on the eel.

Most of all, I'd like access to John Major, in order to say that there is indeed, in case he thought there wasn't, a hand of Providence working throughout all the recent events, and that what we are seeing is the gradual repayment of the Tories for some ancient wrongs. What we are seeing is the unfolding of a slow revenge.

Maybe it's too much to hope for the whole thing, the full vengeance menu to be set before us straight away. Maybe it will indeed take years, and that the prospect for Mr Major is four more years in the shirt of Nessus, followed by oblivion. Nevertheless, for those of us who have been feeling unwell since the last years of the last Labour government, it perks one up no end to see the Conservatives floundering in the mud.

If Asil Nadir, reaching out from northern Cyprus, pulls at one loose thread, and goes on pulling, so that just one bit of the whole great garment begins to unravel, that will be a fine thing to watch. (Is it true - can it be true? - that 19 Tory MPs have homes in northern Cyprus?)

The question how the whole Thatcher-era party was financed, and what the secret financiers got in return, is of extreme interest, and if the scandal, in the unpredictable way that scandals have, casts light on some of the areas deemed hitherto impossible to illumine (such as the source of certain hitherto unexplained personal fortunes), then I'm all for it.

Not that one has to believe Mr Nadir, in the absence of other evidence, on any point. Not that one has to believe that the British establishment, for instance, out of remorse for what was done by Turkey in 1974, and at the urging of the Greek lobby in America, is now trying to undo the work of history and divest itself of 19 cushy holiday homes. These, we take it, are the stories devised by Mr Nadir for home consumption.

One despairs of anyone ever unravelling the full story of the Thatcher/McAlpine years of party financing. But the time does seem ripe for a reassessment of those vast individual secret donations. If one thinks of Hong Kong money, of Brunei money, of Middle Eastern money and of all the ramifications of interest involved, and then one tries to think of a justification for an unaccounted, unaccountable Tory Party . . . the justification fails one. The Tory press is against the Tories on this point, and so indeed are many Tories against their party on this point. But then . . . there stand the Augean stables. Who's got a nose-peg? Who's prepared even to venture in?