The Agreeable world of Wallace Arnold: As I remember it . . .

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MY OWN period as a highly successful - indeed most would argue thoroughly distinguished - Conservative backbencher (1983- 87) has given rise to my volume of highly praised memoirs, Mrs Thatcher and Me: The Enterprise Years (1988), an invaluable primer for those who want to know what really went on in front of the closed doors at Number 10.

I suppose many would criticise me for my honesty, but what is the point of a political memoir if it be not candid? Nevertheless, a number of my colleagues will have retired hurt after a brief perusal of the tome, among them:

Nigel Lawson: 'Nigel is immensely able, and I am full of admiration for his verve and intellect - as he doubtless is for mine.' (p213)

Geoffrey Howe: 'I take my hat off to Geoffrey for steering this nation through a difficult period - with no little help from yours truly, I might add.' (p359)

Kenneth Clarke: 'I can see a great future for this exceptionally talented young fellow, who has placed himself firmly under my wing.' (p456)

I even have the odd, brave word of veiled reproof for Mrs Thatcher herself, such as 'She is a truly remarkable lady, and all of us in the party, and in the country as a whole, owe her a terrific debt' (p532) and 'what on earth would we do without her?'. (p674)

It is this sort of devil-may-care candour that, my friends assure me, gave my memoirs such an edge, crammed full of wry, brilliantly observed portraits, showing how very close I was to the centre of power:

John Selwyn Gummer: 'Rapidly developing into an international statesman of towering vision, I have noticed that John sometimes enjoys a tuna sandwich for lunch - the same as me.' (p693)

Norman Fowler: 'Norman has the habit of occasionally removing his spectacles and giving them a quick polish, the better to pursue his dynamic and imaginative policies. I rather think he got the idea from me, though I have little or no proof to back up this hunch.' (p721)

Sir Marcus Fox: 'Marcus spells his surname without an 'e' on the end, so that it consists of just three letters - three letters less than my own]' (p747)

And so, alas, to the subject of today's column, my poor old friend and quaffing partner Alan Clark, whose 'diaries' the house of Weidenfeld has seen fit to publish this week. Many will remember Alan as a minor character who popped up from time to time in my own memoirs, eg:

'Alan and I have developed into the most terrific chums: the upper classes must stick together, and all that]' (p756)

'Across a crowded room, I

exchanged knowing glances with Alan Clark; two pals, bound together by background, humour and political belief.' (p782)

'I bumped into Alan Clark on the stairs. 'Love to have a drink with you later,' he said, giving me a cheery slap on the back.' (p824)

But reading the same events described in Alan Clark's 'diaries' this week, I wonder if the poor fellow hasn't done himself a grave disservice:

'Am struggling to throw off that podgy little pushy creep Wallace Arnold, dandruff and all.'

'That oily little runt Wallace Arnold beamed at me across the crowded room. I sneered back at the poxy little arriviste.' .

'Bumped into Wallace Arnold. 'Love to have a drink with you later,' I said in my most sardonic tones before trying to push him down the stairs.'

And so on. It is not that I mind the personal nature of these comments, not at all, absolutely not, not one bit, sheer high spirits, we are still the greatest of friends. But it is Alan's own reputation for which I worry. He has brought opprobrium on the House, has caused immense damage to the dignity of public office, and has blackened his own name in the annals of our time. And let us not forget his poor wife, Jane. Frankly, it is the fundamental dishonesty of the 'diaries' to which I object.

Why, oh, why, could he not have told it as it was?

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