The Ageeable World Of Wallace Arnold: Full steam ahead! The good ship Tory's back on course!

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The Independent Online
Poop! Poop! Yes - we're back on course! Ample cause for celebration at Smith Square. But first, a few home truths: for the past two years or more, things in the Conservative party haven't been going according to plan.

Disaster first struck in the May of 1997, when we found ourselves losing the general election. Our first instinct was to cover it up, but the Man on the Clapham Omnibus (dread busybody!) soon found out, and we were forced to come clean.

Since then, things have gone from bad to worse: in poor Hague's first year, our private polls suggested we had lost the rural vote, the city vote, the suburban vote, the black vote, the female vote, the youth vote, the Welsh vote, the Scottish vote, the English vote, the heterosexual vote, the professional vote, the working-class vote and the land-owning vote. We did our best to remain cheerful. "At least we've still got a chance of hanging on to the gay vote," said poor old Michael Ancram one Tuesday lunchtime; but two days later, the damn fool Hague announced his engagement to Ffion, a woman.

Over the past six months, it's been all hands on deck and we've taken a few brave stabs at reviving our fortunes. Early on, we decided to go for what one might call "the more casual approach". Three-piece suits and sober senior members of the party were henceforth to call all TV and radio interviewers by their Christian names and engage in merry banter. Alas, in one exchange with Mr Paxman, little John Redwood took it a mite too far, appearing on Newsnight in his dressing-gown and slippers, sipping a cup of Horlicks, humming an old Nina and Frederick standard and addressing Mr Paxman all the while as "Petal".

Undeterred, we completed the first phase of our regeneration by undertaking a full-scale review of all the most successful Conservative policies of the past century. We were confident that, by reviving these core policies, we could in time win over the broad mass of the British public. I remember well the high-level meeting at Smith Square when our pollsters unveiled their findings. It emerged that the four Conservative achievements of the past century which met with the approval of over 89 per cent of those polled were: (1) Sir Winston Churchill's leadership in the war against Herr Hitler; (2) the installation of traffic lights at busy crossroads in built-up areas; (3) the abandonment of the Poll Tax; and (4) the Monet exhibition at present running at the Royal Academy.

Unfortunately, only 1-3 could be counted even loosely as Conservative achievements. Hague argued forcefully that it would be worth adopting a new Poll Tax revival policy, all the better to accrue popularity through its later abandonment, and poor old Michael Ancram suggested a policy of a complete set of traffic lights in every home for the new Millennium, but I'm afraid it all came to nothing, and we went home a little dejected.

But last week's major re-think, conducted in total secrecy in the obscurity of Mr Hague's private office, will, I think, prove our most imaginative and far-reaching of all.

We decided that there was in fact nothing wrong with our policies - it's our messengers that need a shake-up. We have thus managed to secure the services of a first-rate press and public relations team, among whom Miss Amanda Platell is the first to have been announced.

As Editor of the Sunday Express, Miss Platell brought that doughty newspaper to an infinitely more select band of readers than it had hitherto enjoyed. Though reports have conspired to suggest that she recently spoke at a public meeting in praise of EMU, Amanda has explained to my complete satisfaction that she believed herself to have been delivering an emotional response to the untimely death of Rod Hull.

And I may say that, blessed with the "popular touch" from her days as Editor of the Sunday Mirror, Amanda has unveiled first-rate plans for the revival of the party's fortunes, including a free novelty mug with the purchase of every parliamentary question and a full-colour pin-up of a super soaraway topless scorcher for every Conservative club in the land.

I trust I am not being indiscreet by revealing one or two of the other little tricks up our sleeves: that lifelong foe of New Labour, Mr Derek Hatton, will be contributing his merry can-do "Scouser" repartee when he joins us on the switchboard, and Mr Nick Leeson, who made such a name for himself at Barings, will shortly be free to join us as our new Party Treasurer. All aboard! Full speed ahead, Mr Bo'sun, full speed ahead! Poop-Poop! Poop-Poop!