Nothing wrong with a spot of arms dealing, I say!

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
"I HAVE no hesitation in ... in... in..." I was dictating to my trusty secretary, Miss Nightingale, "I have no hesitation - no, not hesitation, oh, very well then, hesitation, yes, hesitation - I have no hesitation in stating categorically that these are licked wies, no, make that wicked lies, and stating categorically that ... that, oh Lord, have I used categorically already?"

These sincere statements are dreadfully difficult to get right. My deepest sympathies went out to Jonathan as he faced up to the gutter press with such dignity at the start of the week. And how well he handled those dread "autocues"! To me, they seemed to lend his face a caring, pleasant, honest expression I had seldom noticed before. He was well advised, too, not to bring along any fast-loading Kalishnikov missile-launchers to the conference, even though a quick sale may well have been possible: there is, as I always remind him, a time and a place for everything.

Of course, Jonty and I go back yonks, from the day his great uncle, my old mentor and quaffing partner, Lord Beaverbrook ("The Beaver"), introduced me to the young lad, still in shorts, back in the late Forties. I remember the scene well: the little chap gave me a broad smile and then, dipping into his pockets, offered to sell me a catapult, a couple of pea-shooters and a poisonous snake, "purely" as he put it, "for defence purposes".

Needless to say, as I listened to Jonty's doughty self-defence last Monday, I found myself recalling the composition of my own prepared statement, delivered in similar circumstances just a few short years ago. The allegations against me had been, as you will recall, unfriendly, vulgar and, as I put it so forcefully at the time, "tinged with the skein of a suggestion of poorly researched half-truths".

After the newspaper in question had printed its wild allegations, I had summoned Miss Nightingale to my Westminster apartment. After asking her to replace her attractive floral blouse, I informed her that I would be dictating a statement for simultaneous translation on to the autocue at Conservative Central Office.

"I came into politics," I began, "for the purpose of making a packet, no, change that to for the purpose of making a contribution to public service in my constituency, Parliament and in government. Yes, much better.

"I believe my experience of various walks of life, including the experience of selling weapons in the most honourable manner, for the purposes of killing petulant foreigners, often with generous free offers attached, has strengthened my ability to make such a contribution."

I paused. "I wonder if that would sound quite right to the public at large?" I inquired of Miss Nightingale, adding, "The Great Unwashed can be awfully sentimental, you know, when it comes to the killing of littul kiddy-widdies - even those who are, one might say, of a duskier hue."

Miss Nightingale thought that limiting it to the broader term "honourable business" would do the trick. "Keep them guessing" has always been my watchword in politics, and I think I was right to apply it to this passage: ordinary people (dread category!) can react naively to the selling of arms, quite regardless of how beautifully designed those arms - pardon me, "defence systems" (I jest!!) may be.

I then came to the high point of my speech. "The main allegation against me is not, of course, that I was selling some extremely high-quality weapons at knockdown prices to distinguished members of the world's Royal Families. Few would seek to deny that this is a wholly honourable activity, well suited to a Member of Parliament. No, the main allegation is that I once winked at a young lady in a nightclub. This is an outrageous falsehood and a disgraceful slur. I have never so much as molested a lady, young or old, without first declaring it on the list of Members' Interests, as and when necessary, which it is not.

"Let me refute this heinous allegation in the strongest possible terms: the fact of the matter is that this is the fact of the matter: that the fact of the matter is that this remains the fact, and that is what matters, as a matter of fact. I trust I make myself clear."

I then asked Miss Nightingale to replace her shoes in readiness for the final paragraph. "I am ready for the flight - no, make that fight - and pledge here and now to fight with the most expensive team of top QCs - no, the simple sword of truth might sound better - to see that justice will be veiled. No," I corrected myself, "make that will prevail."