The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Norman's endless conquests for the Tory truth

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The Independent Online
MIGHT I take this opportunity, on behalf of all my fellow scriveners, to offer our very best wishes to Sir Norman Fowler on the occasion of his well-earned retirement?

Our friendship goes back yonks. Indeed, only last night, at an informal ceremony to honour his many achievements, Sir Norman took me to one side, placed one hand on my shoulder and purred in that most convivial of voices: 'You and I, Wallace, we're not so much friends as colleagues.'

All those who had enjoyed his dynamic company for so long at Smith Square had begged me to drop in to present Sir Norman with a lightweight household vase as a token of their small esteem. 'Norman,' I said in my beautifully timed speech, 'over the past few years, you have provided the sturdiest support to the party in the country at large. We are all of us here agreed that yours have been the safest possible pair of hands.' With a great beam for the cameras, I then passed him the aforementioned lightweight household vase, which at that moment, alas, seemed to slip through his hands, smashing into smithereens on the floor.

There was a pause for a few seconds as we all looked down at the shards of glass splattered everywhere. As usual, it was left to Norman to save the day. 'The fact of the matter is,' he began, 'that this has always been the party's long-term plan for the vase in question. We have shown that vases are safe in our hands, and that we are the only party who have a firmly thought-out policy on the whole issue of vase protection - of that there can be no possible doubt. Thank you.' The applause was rapturous.

But there is always one 'smart alec' in every room, and inevitably one of their loathsome breed found cause to chip in with what I imagine he thought a 'clever' question, asking Norman if the lightweight household vase was not now in pieces at his feet. Norman put up a stout defence. 'I don't accept that at all, not at all,' he countered with the consummate skill of an elder statesman, his right foot busily sweeping the shards away from the immediate vicinity of his person. 'In fact, the fact of the matter is quite the opposite to be perfectly frank.'

Our party has indeed lost a doughty champion, a man who has singlehandedly turned our fortunes around, with a beguiling mixture of charm, grace and charisma. I suppose it was during the so-called 'three-day week' in the early Seventies that we first spotted Norman's great potential as a communicator. 'This is not by any manner or means a three-day week,' he said to the doughty Michael Barrett from BBC1's Nationwide. 'And let no one kid you that it is. The fact of the matter is that it is quite clearly a seven-day week, with four of those days at present held in reserve.'

By the mid-Seventies, we were fielding him to offer the more upbeat Conservative point of view on every major disaster. When a coach crash in the East Midlands killed 24 people in March 1975, he argued forcefully that 'not a single item of luggage was damaged - and that says a lot for the high standards of British workmanship in the baggage industry'. Similarly, a motorway pile-up involving 90 cars on the M1 later that same year found him extolling 'this marvellous opportunity to get the British motor industry back on its feet again. The fact is orders are already pouring in'.

But perhaps his most impressive achievement has been in more recent times, with his increasingly forthright predictions of the results of so many of our key by-elections. For instance, he was the first person in the party to predict easy Conservative wins at both Christchurch and Newbury, and he was the first to note, after the Conservative vote at Eastleigh emerged well into four figures, that 'this magnificent endorsement of Conservative policies offers us a resounding mandate of support from the country at large'.

Norman's own domestic life has not been without its fair share of complications, but he has seen them all off. At his wedding to his first wife, he predicted that 'this marriage will go from strength to strength'. A couple of years later, it ended in divorce, 'a clear sign of our devotion and commitment', as he explained in his election brochure.

Sadly, as he left last night's agreeable function, he walked under a bus. 'The fact of the matter is,' he groaned, shortly before passing away, 'I have again successfully crossed the road without any impediment whatsoever.'

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