William and I look to the ordinary, decent people

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
A MOMENTOUS week for those of us who have kept faith with the Conservative Party through the ups and downs of the past few years. Yes, we are back in business - and even our opponents in the media are sitting up and paying attention! William's radical reshuffle of his shadow team has drawn an unprecedented amount of publicity from even the leftish press. Indeed, it has come a very close second behind news of Mr Paul Gascoigne, Miss (Msss!) Ginger Spice, Miss (Msss!) Monica Lewinsky and the German train crash.

It is surely one of the most courageous moves William has made since he first took over the reins of the Conservative Party, well on a par with his decision to attend last year's Notting Hill Carnival dressed as a village idiot. Broadly speaking, he has switched Norman Fowler from whatever he was doing before to whatever he is going to do now. He has left John Redwood and Michael Howard in whatever positions they may or may not occupy and he has removed Peter Lilley from his previous position and placed him in a brand new position perhaps better suited to his undoubted quality of making himself scarce. And dear old Cecil Parkinson, whom William brought in as Party Chairman to signal a new, young, upbeat, forward-thinking change of direction in Conservative thinking, has been replaced by the even more "with-it" Michael Ancram, who is widely believed to sport bell- bottom denim jeans and a rayon/viscose mix turtleneck beneath his more formal pin-stripe suit.

Excellent! And my own position within the new-look Conservative Party? You have, no doubt, read all about it already ("Top Tory thinker takes on key role", Daily Telegraph, 2 June), but I am taking over full responsibility for the masterminding of our mould-breaking new "Listening to Britain" exercise, in which many of our exciting new front-bench faces - among them Gillian Shephard, Francis Maude and that skinny one, name temporarily forgotten, in charge of either Northern Ireland (or is it Education?) - will be touring the town halls of Britain to listen hard to those ordinary, decent people of this country who can think of nothing better to do with their lives than to turn up at town halls to bark at politicians.

A word or two about my "Listening to Britain" project. It was while chatting with William over a Hob Nob that I first had the idea. "We've got to ask ourselves the big question, Wallace," William had said. "And the big question is this: what kind of government do the ordinary, decent people of Britain really want?"

"Tricky one," I said. I thought long and hard, choosing my words with precision. This was my great opportunity to come up with the right answer, and I didn't want to throw it away. "A Labour government?" I suggested.

His response disappointed me. "Don't be absurd!" he snapped. "Of course they don't want a Labour government. They're tired of all those old faces and old ideas. They're crying out for a Michael Howard, a John Redwood and a dynamic new team. They want a new-style Conservatism. Vote New Conservative - Because Britain Deserves Better. If that's not a winning slogan, Wallace, I don't know what is! But first, Wallace, we must learn to listen!"

"I suppose..." I began.

"Because only by listening, Wallace, will we ever regain the trust of the British people."

"Well, you certainly have a -"

"Listening - that's the name of the game."

"I quite ag-"

"Not just talking - but listening."

"True, but -"

"And listening hard."

So between the two of us, we set up our "Listening to Britain" roadshow. It's still early days, but our try-outs have proved a magnificent success. Only last night, the Ipswich Gaumont was packed to the rafters with ordinary, decent people eager to listen. Alas, they were eager to listen to James Last and his Orchestra. This left us no choice but to hire a mini-van and ferry our prospective audience to an upper room at the A14 Travel Lodge, conveniently situated just two miles from the town centre.

William, John Redwood, David Willetts and I sat on the makeshift platform listening intently to what they all had to say. The first gentleman called for the return of Margaret Thatcher, the second for the return of corporal punishment, and the third for the return of his wife by the aliens in the UFO that had landed the week before. To show how much we had really listened, we spent a good few seconds taking copious notes. Between ourselves, our next manifesto will contain the solemn pledge of an airborne strike against all UFOs by Baroness Thatcher brandishing a whip. Oh yes, we're back in business!

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