Why Michael owes it all to Dusty Springfield

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
I have long been a tremendous fan of Mr Michael Heseltine, never more so than now. It is good to see the Old Lion has lost none of his appetite for rough and tumble. I applaud his reaction after the two feeble Chief Whips of the Labour and Liberal (dread word!) Parties began to whine their little heads off after falling for the Conservative Party's good-natured and highly seasonal "doubling-up" gag. Michael responded by calling these whingers "silly" and "hysterical" and "totally synthetic". Spot on, Michael!

Michael has never lacked pluck. I remember well those days in the late 1950s when he was scratching a living as a male model. He would spend his time parading up and down the Kings Road in all the very latest "with- it" knitwear in the hope of catching the eye of some eagle-eyed fashion photographer. He was mustard-keen, even then, and never missed a trick to bark back at his critics. At one of his first outdoor "photo-shoots", the photographer asked him to lean a little more heavily on the farm-gate and look "a little more rustic" in his blue-and-white polo neck with mother- of-pearl inlay. "This is one of the most absurd suggestions I have heard in my entire career!" he snapped back. "It is arrant nonsense and the grossest hypocrisy to suggest that I do not already look extravagantly rustic! I demand a retraction!" Alas, his modelling career failed to prosper. After one catalogue for female nightwear and accessories - his startling resemblance to the popular singer Miss Dusty Springfield won him the job - it all seemed to peter out. During the whole of 1959, he managed to find only one assignment, modelling shoe-laces under the title "The Shoe- Lace Makes The Man" for a company based in Leighton Buzzard which was to fold within the year.

But Michael's temperament was soon to find its perfect outlet. Parading in Tootal co-ordinates through the streets of Henley-on-Thames one crisp spring morn in early '61, he caught the eye of the chairman of the Henley Conservative Party. At that time, Henley Conservatives had been searching high and low for a suitable candidate to put forward in the next election. The chairman - a retired colonel of impeccable integrity - collared the young Heseltine there and then. "Excuse me," he said, laying one arm on his shoulder, "but are you by any chance... Miss Dusty Springfield?"

Michael has never been slow to seize his moment. He must have realised that his answer would set the seal on his future in politics. All his natural reserves of political acumen would have to come into play - yet he must never be found guilty of fibbing. "Good question, if I may say so," he replied, "And I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter in a calm, sensible way, free from the hysterics and silliness foisted upon busy men of affairs by the shrill demands of the media. And let me add this. We in Britain are sick and tired of those who seek to run down this great country of ours. It is time we called a halt to their cynicism. It is time we said `Enough is Enough'. It is time we flew the flag for Great Britain, saying, loud and clear, in the words of our forefathers `Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!' "

It was a remarkable speech. By the time he had finished, the streets of Henley were packed with ordinary men and women stamping and applauding. No doubt a fair proportion believed they had been witnessing an impromptu medley from the chart-topping Miss Dusty Springfield. But there were, however, still a handful who must have realised that this was a human being of such integrity that he was destined for a place in the Cabinet. Michael Heseltine MP was indeed on his way.

This was years ago. Michael is now a figure of such eminence in the Conservative Party that one is constantly being pestered to polish off an obituary of him for one newspaper or another. "Mace Man Dies" is the heading for my obit of him in the Telegraph. "Death of Minister Who Stormed From Thatcher's Cabinet" reads the heading in the Times. And two of his most memorable political sayings are shortly to be immortalised in my forthcoming Arnold's Book of Political Quotations. They are: 1) "How dare you suggest I will stand against Mrs Thatcher! She has my fullest support!" and 2) "I have been persuaded by my colleagues to stand for election as Leader of the Conservative Party."

And what of his future? On Thursday's Newsnight he remained certain that the Conservatives will sail through the next election with flying colours, guaranteeing his employment for the next five years. But I couldn't help but notice a telling detail: he was dressed in Tootal Co- Ordinates, topped off with the very latest in fashionable knitwear.