Loyalty. That's a word of which one hears precious little. Loyalty to friends. Loyalty to colleagues. Loyalty to those for whom one works.
But some of us can still claim Loyalty as our middle name. As a lifelong Conservative, loyalty flows through my veins. In the first half of the Seventies (dread decade!) my loyalty was to our leader, Mr (now Sir!!!) Edward Heath. On the doorstep, I took pains to applaud his robust good humour and good sense. In the House, I rallied around him, loyal as ever, even when he was subsumed by his innate peevishness and crass incompetence - failings I was careful to criticise on a strictly off-the-record basis at the time.
In 1975 I loyally switched my allegiance to Margaret Thatcher. This steadfast loyalty meant that my dealings with poor old Ted were henceforth glances in Westminster corridors and loyal transactions with political editors, informing them of interesting new developments in Ted's somewhat, shall we say, hazy private life.
The 1990-91 period proved a testing time for my loyalty, but I passed with flying colours. My first loyalty continued to be to Margaret, but secretly I wondered whether her ideas might best be implemented by Michael Heseltine, to whom I remained loyal until it became clear that Douglas Hurd was in with a chance.
But let me make it clear how absolutely delighted I was when John Major became leader. Needless to say, I remained loyal to the poor, over-promoted fellow right up to just before the very end, when I pledged my loyalty first to Michael Howard, then to John Redwood, then to Ken Clarke and finally to the candidate who seemed to me then and still seems to me now to be head and shoulders above the rest, namely the young and dynamic William Hague.
But there are times when, in the interests of loyalty, a little - what might one call it? - disloyalty is required. Every now and then, it is sadly necessary, so that democracy may be served, to - how shall I put it? - plant the seed of doubt and stand back and watch it grow. My own preferred seed is what one might best term the "private life" (dread phrase!) of the individual. Let me explain.
Over the past few years, you will have heard on the hush-hush that Senior Conservative A, though married, is in fact a "confirmed bachelor", or that Senior Conservative B, though most publicly engaged, is in fact "rather more attracted to those of his own gender". These little acorns have now grown into the most beautiful oaks, and I have long basked in their shade. And who, may one ask, planted them? Step forward, Wallace Arnold!
I first demonstrated my loyalty to the Conservative Party way back in the early 1960s. Immensely likeable though he was, poor old Alec Home continued to show up poorly in the opinion polls. To steady the ship, I treated a senior political correspondent to a slap-up meal at Simpsons. Just before the pud arrived (an excellent sherry trifle, as I remember it), I leant across the table and whispered: "Poor old Alec - frankly, he never got over that little fling with Tom Driberg, poor love. But don't tell anyone!" Result? Within the space of six months, Alec had been pushed over to the Foreign Office and Ted had taken up the reins at Number 10!
Thanks to the efforts of yours truly, rumours concerning Alec's love- life continued to circulate throughout his time in office. Other rumours soon abounded: Alec and Kenneth Williams spotted on holiday with Joe Orton in Tangiers, Alec necking with Ronnie Kray at the Sophisticats Nightclub, Alec parading around the Ladies Enclosure at Ascot clad in a nylon one- piece by Christian Dior.
And when Ted's own dip in popularity came in '74, my loyalty to the Party moved once again to the fore. Had he not been seen late one night cavorting with a member of The Young Generation dance troupe, complete with silks and ruffles, on Hampstead Heath? Was there not a hint of mauve in his shirts? And was not his friendship with Reginald Maudling perhaps a little too touchy-feely?
And so to 1997. It was while campaigning for Michael Howard that the unmarried status of young William Hague was first brought to my attention. A word here and there, and William's little-known career as a lap-dancer at Legends discotheque became common currency, not to mention his close friendship with Mr Humphries from TV's Are You Being Served?
Alas and alack, when the time came to remove my loyalty from Howard and switch it to Hague, I found these little rumours of mine hard to erase. We can only hope that his forthcoming marriage to Ffion (dread name!) does the trick, or we shall all be scuttled, and our loyalty may be tested to breaking point.
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