'Horreur As Arnold Quitter Les Tories' ran the (freely translated]) page 3 headline of Le Monde. 'Major Falters As Arnold Declares Adios' reported Figaro while the Cuban Daily Herald put it most bluntly of all: 'Arnold Defection Signals Major's Downfall'.
Here at home, my change of allegiance has afforded my fellow columnists, doughty scriveners all, something of a field day. 'Where Arnold Leads, Others Are Sure to Follow' was the heading given to Willy Rees-Mogg's excellent piece in Tuesday's Times, in which that canny soothsayer predicted that, 'For as long as there have been Rees-Moggs in Somerset, the illustrious House of Arnold has lent its family support to the Tories. During the General Strike, it was Archibald Arnold who collected the tickets on the first double-decker to leave the Dartford depot. In 1936, when a disturbed King Edward VIII threatened to disrupt the smooth process of government during his visit to a steelworks in Wales, it was Ambrose Arnold who attempted to convince newspaper editors that what the King had really meant to say was, 'Something must not be done'. And at the height of the 1984-85 Miners' Strike, it was Wallace Arnold who hatched the ill- fated plot to style Mr Scargill's hair into the shape of a question mark, thus spreading uncertainty among those who followed him.
'But now, to the horror of senior members of the Conservative Cabinet, Wallace Arnold has declared that enough is most surely enough, and that his future lies within the new tough-on-scroungers fiscal and social policies of Mr Blair's Labour Party. And where Arnold leads, many more are bound to follow.'
I can now reveal that it was a nod and a wink from my own good self that led the estimable Mr Rupert Murdoch to mention to a German (]) reporter that he was toying with following my example and Backing Blair. Only the day before, I had attended Evensong in the company of that most charismatic of proprietors. At one point, the collection plate had been passed around and into it I had placed, with characteristic generosity, a shiny new 50p piece. Turning to Rupert, who had only just that minute finished sewing the rubber band on to his pounds 5 note, I whispered that I had every reason to believe that under the tough new no-nonsense policies of Tony Blair, collection plates would be outlawed. 'Tony's got no time for the something-for-nothing society, you know,' I said. 'Unlike the dread Major, he realises that throwing money at the poor can't possibly help to make them any richer. Think of the money you'll save under a Labour government in Church collections alone, Rupert, and then follow me in making the leap to Labour.'
My intensely private discussions with Tony Blair have convinced me that he is intellectually sound on such matters as cutbacks and competition. Over the past few weeks, we have met under conditions of the strictest secrecy in a well-equipped private dining room in the Islington area of London, with catering, service and 'washing up' all in the capable hands of Tony's highly experienced 'Man Friday', Prescott.
As Tony and I bash out the finer detail of Labour Party policy - the privatisation of the sea, the reintroduction of capital punishment for first-time offenders (but only, Tony insists, if they are proven guilty), some sort of health threshold to prevent the infirm from clogging up our hospitals, and so forth - Prescott spares nothing in his efforts to make us feel at home, slipping into his full steward's regalia as he serves us Soup of the Day, Choice of Roast Chicken or Meat Stew, Black Forest Gateau with freshly brewed Kenco to follow. After he has finished loading the machine, we invite him to join us for a beer while we two share a port.
'But what about this great Trades Union movement of ours that has done so much for the ordinary working bloke?' he invariably interjects. 'No need to worry, Prescott,' I reassure him. 'They'll be as quiet as the proverbial church mice after we've made our man General Secretary. Chap called Sir Peregrine Worsthorne. Awfully amusing. D'y'know him at all?'