The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: With a nice ring to it

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A HIGHLY successful week at the Scottish Tory party conference, setting us back on course for victory. This outstanding success was, I need hardly say, thanks to meticulous planning by a select group consisting of my own good self, the splendid Lord Archer, that doughty workhorse Sir Norman Fowler, the Prime Minister - plucky chap] - and poor old Lamont, of whom least said, soonest etc. Might I focus on just one phrase so as to afford you a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of the hard intellectual graft that goes into the making of a single speech? It comes from Ken Clarke's rumbustious speech to Wednesday's fringe meeting, widely reported in the press.

Personally, I have a great deal of time for Ken, and have had since I first discovered him, way back in the late 1970s, when he stepped in for a poorly Mr Noddy Holder of the highly successful 'pop' group Slade at the Gaumont, Wolverhampton. The result? In the words of one fan: 'Dynamite'. Never before had true Tory lyrics been combined so successfully with the thumping beat so beloved of the young at heart. Ken followed a spirited rendition of their immortal classic 'Cum on Feel the Uptern in the Ekonomi'. This, I knew at once, was a man with the 'common touch', just the sort to drag the Tory party kicking and screaming into the Eighties.

But I digress. Last Wednesday, Ken was detailed to make a speech signalling a return to traditional Tory values. Alas, none of us could remember what on earth they were. In the end, of course, Ken was seen by millions stating that: 'The party should reassert its commitment to common sense, self-discipline and order.' Strong stuff. But how did we arrive at this choice of values?

We were all agreed that Ken should state unequivocally that the party should reassert its commitment to something, something and something else. But, for the life of us, we couldn't make up our minds what those somethings should be. Frankly, it took us some time to arrive at 'common sense'. At first, Sir Norman Fowler wanted a resource more within the grasp of the present Cabinet. 'Personally, I'd go for 'The party should reassert its commitment to putting quite a fair bit of general discussion into its decisions, if any, as and when necessary',' he said.

But Lord Archer - ever one for the pithy phrase - was more resolute. 'Let's have no shilly- shallying. Let's say, 'The party should reassert its commitment to, to, to - yes] - to commitment',' he said, punching the air with his fist.

'Hmm . . . 'A commitment to commitment' - that would make a useful slogan for the next election,' opined the Prime Minister, and we all jotted the phrase down in our executive desk pads.

'But do we really want to commit ourselves to commitment?' chipped in the ever-cautious Norman Lamont. 'We could be digging a hole for ourselves. Why not 'The party should reassert its commitment to not commiting ourselves too soon to any single one of a number of equally viable options?' It has quite a nice ring to it, you must agree.'

The time had come, I thought, for the firm hand of Arnold. ' 'Common sense',' I said. 'If in doubt, 'Common sense' always wins the day]'

The Prime Minister was delighted. ' 'A commitment to common sense',' he kept repeating.

'But we need a commitment to two more things as well,' said Sir Norman, adding, 'How about 'self-discipline'?'

'I've got to go now,' said Lamont. 'Bit of a bring-a-bottle- and-a-bird do at the Treasury.'

'Crikey] Is that the time?' said Lord Archer. 'I should be at Hatchards for a signing session.'

'So there we have it,' said Sir Norman: ' 'A commitment to common sense, self-discipline and . . . ' what? 'Order?' '

'Or should that be 'order, self- discipline and common sense'?' said the PM. 'Or 'Self-discipline, common sense and order'? or 'Order, common sense and self- discipline'? Deary me. Decisions, decisions, decisions.'