The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: How we thrashed out dress policy over dinner

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The Independent Online
A successful week, I rather think, for those of us staying with Tony B in Blackpool (dread seaside metropolis]). Having now found myself firmly entrenched upon a high chair in Tony's so-called 'kitchen cabinet' - or kitchen-cum-dining- room cabinet as we prefer to call it - I have been privileged to accept a number of responsibilities for the continued modernisation of the Labour Party.

First, though, a word or two concerning dining out in Blackpool. One of the first acts of a new Labour government must surely be to improve the catering arrangements in Blackpool and surrounding areas. But, until then, one must learn to make do with what's on offer. Together with those estimable scriveners Johnny Mortimer, Melvyn Bragg, Antonia Fraser, Ken Follett and our most recent convert, my old friend and quaffing partner Bernard Levin, I had booked a private room for dinner with Tony and Cherie in the Pembroke Hotel, with the trusty Prescott in full livery serving alcoholic beverages, snacks and a selection of light refreshments beforehand. Drinks went very smoothly - only a couple of spillages from Prescott, whose clean white jacket ended up somewhat splattered with Britvic - and when we passed through to the dining-room, it seemed that the atmosphere of mutual respect was well-suited to my purposes.

After Antonia had read out apologies from Harold - he was, she explained, fulfilling a long-standing engagement to go Arm-Wrestling in the Cairngorms - I gently broached the subject uppermost in all our minds. 'Tony,' I said, dipping casually into my Prawn Cocktail, 'one or two of us here today are - how shall I put it? - a little concerned about the tax arrangements of the next Labour government.

'Obviously one must have some sort of tax - I think we all of us accept that - but we were a little worried that you might, as it were, 'go too far' and build a tax structure based upon the politics of envy. For instance, I have heard it said that you will continue to tax the rich rather more than the poor - a divisive and ruinous policy if ever I heard one]]'

Tony was every bit the gentleman. With utter candour, he told us that it was early days yet, but that we shouldn't entertain too many worries on that score. At this point, who should enter but Prescott, bearing a choice of red or white, a scowl upon his brow. Tony emitted a discreet cough and swiftly added: 'But the rich among us must expect to pay our fair share towards the common good.'

'Quite, quite,' I agreed. 'No worries on that score. I'm all for the rich chipping in a small percentage of their earnings. I'm only thankful that none of us here today is what I would remotely term the 'very rich' - so we'll be let off, touch wood]'

'Over my dead - ' mumbled Prescott.

'Thank you, John,' chipped in Tony. 'That'll be enough. Now Melvyn, how goes the latest tome?'

Tip-top news for one and all, then, including the better-shod readers of this very newspaper] And so to my special responsibilities for the modernisation of the party. It is my great privilege to be chairing a special Commission into the Manners, Mores and General Deportment of the Labour Party, my fellow panellists consisting of Lady Elizabeth Anson, Mr David Jacobs, Her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire, and the Hon Mrs Ken Follett. We will soon be issuing a list of radical proposals on basic etiquette to all Labour Party members. Without wishing to let too many cats out of their proverbial containers, I trust Tony will forgive me if I reveal just one or two of our most far-reaching proposals for the radical transformation of British society:

Fingernails. Clean fingernails are a priority. We must be tough on dirty fingernails, tougher still on the causes of dirty fingernails. The new National Curriculum will allow at least two hours a week for rigorous scrubbing.

Dress. All delegates to party conference will be expected to wear a light blue double-breasted suit with clean white shirt and tie. For birds of the unfeathered variety, Mrs Ken Follett has designed a delightful two-piece 'glamour-puss' suit with elegant floral smock.

Hair. Hair may not be worn over the collar, unless the delegates concerned are women, in which case it may not be worn above the collar.

Smiling. Smile at all times, particularly when being photographed in areas of heavy unemployment.

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