The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold : How I helped the poor in wonderful Copenhagen

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The Independent Online
MY OWN good self and my fellow directors of the Independent are all now listed each day on the editorial page, there for all our loyal readers to marvel at our shining claims to integrity, courage and good old British pluck. It was while talking a few months back to one of these smartly dressed young directors - a Mr Nicholas Leeson - that it was first hinted to me that I might care to represent the board at the forthcoming summit in Copenhagen.

"Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen!" I jested, for I am blessed with a pleasant singing voice. When young Leeson's hoots of laughter had died down, he managed to gather himself sufficiently to garnish me with some further details.

"It'll be a real smasher of a conference, Wallace," he told me, "20,000 people expected, all the top dogs, no expense spared - and Copenhagen's a haven of restaurants." "Sounds rather me," I replied, tentatively. "But what's the subject?"

Leeson looked temporarily stumped. "There you've got me," he said, taking the glossy brochure out of his upper pocket. "Ah, that's it - World Poverty," he continued. "It's a United Nations beano on World Poverty. So you'll be doing some good, too! Sounds too good to miss, if you ask me."

I must say, I leapt at it. As my regular readers will know (and, incidentally, I have it on good authority that HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother is one of my greatest fans), I have long been distressed by world poverty, often so distressed that I find myself switching over to something a little lighter when Mr Michael Buerk puts on his hang-dog expression and sighs his way through yet another report from a "war-torn area" (dread words!).

"Count me in!" I said to Leeson, and within the next few days my personal assistant of many years standing, Lord Wyatt of Weeford (absolute treasure), had arranged the very best of luxury (albeit Danish) accommodation, plus complimentary meals in all the most exclusive Copenhagen restaurants, bless him.

And so to Copenhagen itself. What an immense amount of doings we got through - and I'm reliably informed that the conference itself was not without its lighter moments, too, with mentions of the "underprivileged" kept to the barest minimum. But I must admit to a number of shocks. Leafing through the conference brochure on Day One I was distressed to see that the important issue of the continuation of Foxhunting and other traditional British field sports was nowhere to be addressed, and nor was there so much as a seminar set aside for the great question on everyone's lips during the latter part of the 1990s, namely the issue of Miss Elizabeth Hurley and That Dress.

"These people aren't living in the real world," I complained to Wyatt as he laid out my jim-jams and I flicked through the conference brochure. "I mean to say, there's not so much as a mention of the future of Norman Lamont and bugger all on Peter Lilley. Instead it's all poverty, poverty, poverty. Talk about single-issue fanatics!"

Wyatt agreed with me wholeheartedly, so I tossed him a cigar and his little eyes lit up. "It's not that we don't want to do something about the poor," I said. "Quite the opposite. We want to keep them off the streets as much as the next man. But we don't want them rammed down our throats, morning, noon and night. Nor would they wish us to offer them `charity' - dread word! That's just patronising them, and there's nothing that poor people hate more than being patronised. I know that, because I've lived among them - Lloyd's losers, Barings directors, Lord Gowrie, Princess Michael of Kent, the lot."

Between the two of us, we decided the best way to offer the poor some tangible help was to stay away from the conference altogether. How could 20,000-odd delegates - and believe me, some of them were very odd (I jest!!) - contribute anything worthwhile to the solution of world poverty. Pah! One-to-one frank and open discussion over, say, a four-course meal in a five-star restaurant can solve many more crises than the mumbo-jumbo of delegates - the vast majority of them foreign! - ever could.

So while the others were banging on about world poverty, we actually did something about it, and very good the meals were, too. Put simply, we concluded that the poor mustn't just sit back and blithely expect the rest of us to come up with a solution. Whatever happens, we must do nothing to patronise them, and with this in mind, we must all agree to do nothing. Far better to wait and see how things turn out for themselves, I think you'll agree. No?