Serious columnists don't bother with royal to-dos

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold

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RAT-a-tat-tat at the Tradesmen's Entrance. It is our esteemed editor (I jest!) calling around to ask me to tackle the important issues.

He explains that those among my colleagues whom he terms (somewhat irreverently!) "the lightweights" - Ascherson, Watkins, et al - are determined to offer their "sideways looks" at the Princess. But there are more important events going on, our editor explains. And it is up to Arnold to tackle the big issues, to define the parameters of discussion, dealing with those topics which go to the very nub and weave of our society.

"Whither the former Yugoslavia?" "A Budget for the 21st Century?" "The Labour Party: A Farewell to Socialism?" These are questions that heavyweight columnists such as myself feel duty-bound to grapple with - even if it means turning up our noses at the populist clamour for gossip, half-baked opinion and tittle-tattle.

First, the former Yugoslavia. This is, indeed, a vexed issue. There has, of course, been a war there. This is, as I pointed out on BBC1's Question Time last week, absolutely undeniable. What else can one say with any certainty? It is a war both bloody and bitter, a war between two or more opposing factions, a conflict in many ways similar to that being fought rather closer to home, in Kensington.

Incidentally, on the subject of Charles and Diana, I enjoyed a personal luncheon with the Princess only two months ago, and can vouch for her absolute integrity, strength of character and sheer moral beauty. But to return to Bosnia: has it never occurred to the Prince of Wales that, in following the Serb stance in isolating his former partner, he is playing into the hands of the enemy?

Another major issue facing this country is undoubtedly the imminent - not to say eminent(!) - Budget to be delivered by my old friend and quaffing partner Mr Kenneth Clarke. Interest rates, the balance of payments and this country's continued position at the heart of the world economy, not to mention the omni-present threat to our economic well-being from the Pacific Rim - these are the issues that the Chancellor must face fair and square when he bestrides the Despatch Box. Clarke must tackle them head on, just as the Princess of Wales, whom I had the pleasure of lunching with just two short months ago, tackled her very own problems head-on before millions of viewers on Monday last.

Just as the Princess has grown, turning weakness to strength, so, surely, must this country's economy continue to grow. Let us hope that our doughty team at the Treasury soon takes a leaf from the Book of Diana and begins to look outwards, establishing a role for itself on the international stage. By the way, I noted when I last had lunch with the Princess of Wales in her private dining-room at Kensington Palace - just a couple of months ago - that she had an instinctive feel for the nuts and bolts of economic theory. Is it not high time the Government found some way to put her undoubted talents to better use? Chief secretary to the Treasury is a job she could tackle with aplomb, and in years to come I would guess that the Chancellorship itself might be well within her grasp.

And how fares the Labour Party these days? Whene'er one views Messrs Blair and Brown one is reminded, in some curious way, of their Royal Highnesses The Prince and Princess of Wales. Is it a marriage made in heaven? Or, in 10 years' time, will we be subjected to the gruesome spectacle of spouses torn asunder, or irreconcilable differences leading to acrimony and eventual divorce? For all his qualities, Gordon Brown is very much of what one might call the bulimic economic tendency, opening the fridge door of welfare and guzzling to the full, only to disgorge it all later in the day amidst a flurry of guilt and self-loathing.

Finally, our overview of the world must inevitably turn westwards, towards the future of the USA and Canada. Eight weeks ago - when I was privileged to enjoy a private luncheon with the Princess of Wales - it struck me that President Clinton could learn much from this pluckylady, so frail of body yet so strong of spirit. If the President listens to just one piece of advice, I trust it will be this: America is a young nation, fresh and triumphant, as stunningly beautiful in slacks as it is in evening dress. But, like W Arnold Esq, it must continue to view itself with all due seriousness, never to be distracted by the inanities proffered by this trivial age.

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