The Agreeable World of Sir Wallace Arnold: That honours hoo-ha

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The Independent Online
IT WAS all too predictable that the chip-on-shoulder brigade, egged on by the hard-left press in the shape of our sister paper the Independent, would attempt to extract the maximum mileage from Mr Asil Nadir's alleged donations to the Conservative Party. As Honorary Treasurer at Smith Square these past 15 years, I wonder if I may be allowed to set straight the facts?

I have never, I repeat NEVER, met Mr Nadir at any time in my life whatsoever. This unequivocal statement is particularly true if one discounts no more than half- a-dozen private luncheon engagements I may or may not have enjoyed with him a few months, perhaps even years, ago. Frankly, I cannot be expected to remember every Tom, Dick or Harry who hands over a cheque for the odd half-million, particularly if he is wearing dark glasses at the time, and the handover location is an ill-lit National Car Park.

Furthermore, the suggestion that Mr Nadir sought to exert pressure on me for a knighthood in return for financial donations to the party is ludicrous. The press has tried to make a mountain of the recent discovery of a silver salver with the inscription, 'Arise Sir Asil] - Not Long Now] Fingers Crossed for the K From Your Old Chums Wallace A and All at Central Office' but it simply will not wash. My friends tell me that my one great weakness is my heartfelt generosity, and I am the first to admit that this has led me in the past to distribute gifts of silverware to complete strangers on a regular basis. But surely caring for others better off than oneself is no crime, even in this day and age?

Of course these snide accusations are nothing new. I remember when I was Deputy Treasurer in the early Sixties the tremendous hoo-ha that arose from the discovery that two leading businessmen of then unblemished character - Ronald and Reginald Kray - had contributed to party funds in return for a guided tour of the Bank of England, a brace of new passports, a pair of OBEs, a gaming licence, an informal dinner-dance with Lord Louis Mountbatten and five hours' plastic surgery with the doctor of their choice. We thought nothing of it at the time, not even bothering to commit their kindly gesture to our files, but of course the 'gentlemen' - nota bene the inverted commas - of the press made a meal of it.

Another example, if I may. In the mid-to-late 1980s, I enjoyed a first-class dinner - potted shrimps, the lot - at the prestigious Carlton Tower Hotel hosted by the immensely respected Mr Mark Thatcher for a select handful of foreign entrepreneurs. It was a highly civilised affair, with all present perfectly happy to deposit their guns, hand grenades, coshes and assorted firearms at reception before the commencement of the meal, and only one or two insisting on the wearing of discreet face-masks throughout the vote of thanks. After a brief but witty speech by W Arnold esq, a great many of those present chose to dip deep into their pockets on behalf of the Conservative Party. In return, they received virtually nothing whatsoever besides our heartfelt thanks, a signed photograph of Mark and his mother, a chance to meet Sir Norman and Lady Fowler over a sticky bun, and a dozen MBEs, distributed in the fairest possible manner through an after-dinner tombola. The result? A great many contented faces, a boost to our British order books, and a Conservative Party better equipped to fight old-fashioned values such as prudence and probity at the next election.

Of course, the odd 'bad apple' is bound to find its way into the barrel, but just because General Manuel Noriega MBE, Imelda Marcos MBE and Carlos the Jackal MBE may or may not have been present on that occasion, there is no reason to condemn the event as 'improper'. By and large, our Honours System compares favourably with those in many of the South American republics. After all, there can't be very much wrong with a country in which men of the calibre of Lord Archer, Lord King, Sir Nicholas Lloyd and Sir Ronald Biggs receive some of our highest honours, now can there?

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