Chapter 23: Valediction
My friends, I have been asked to say a few words in memory of our departed colleague, Oswald Briddle. Some of you may be surprised that what most of us would consider more an honour than a duty has fallen upon me, since Ossie and I were once described as political Antipodeans. I suppose that was true at one time and in one sense, though it became increasingly hard to detect, as our exchanges in recent years were more in the form of persiflage than downright hostility.
Remembering Ossie’s devotion to the idea that brevity is the soul of wit, I will try to avoid verbal excess, but am bound to recall certain clashes. Only three months ago, Ossie demonstrated his pithiness when he described me as the Establishment’s bagman, to which comment my leader riposted that this was better than being organised labour’s swagman. A merry piece of give and take.
They say one should not speak ill of the dead. In some cases, that is easier said than done. Happily, there is no dilemma on this occasion, for there can be few people who could justifiably denigrate the name of Oswald Briddle, a man who embodied all that we have come to regard as the essence of democratic politics. There is no need here to damn with faint praise.
It is true that our late great friend and I were opposites in some ways, yet that never precluded mutual respect. We all had a good laugh last year, when Ossie disagreed with me over fish quotas, saying that a man in my position should have little time for such matters, on grounds of his having burdens enough with six hundred acres in the home counties and eighteen company directorships. Energised, if also slightly wounded, by Ossie’s forthrightness, I replied that such responsibilities were better shouldered by me than by an ill-bred upstart from one of the North’s bleakest housing estates – a remark that elicited the odd titter. There was no animosity involved. Those words were merely the cut and thrust of our much-envied system, and what a dull place this great debating chamber would be without a little banter.
We live in changing times and nobody could fairly accuse Oswald Briddle of failing to grasp that point. Was it not he who, twenty-seven years ago, resigned from the Communist ranks to found his own Far Right Party? Some might consider that a startling change, a volte-face, perhaps. Indeed, some of Ossie’s former colleagues, no doubt embittered, called him a turncoat. I do not concur with their view. A man should be true to his values, even when they are, let us say, less than immutable.
It came as a surprise to many of us when Ossie later ditch ... ah ... left his right-wing group to lead the Tudor Rose Republican Party. True, this coincided with his good fortune in securing top consultancy posts with several local governments in his area. What is wrong with that? Did we not learn from Shakespeare that there is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune? There is little doubt in my mind that a man of Oswald Briddle’s stature must have been well worth £276,542 a year in fees, plus an annual six-figure expense account.
There were those – including, sadly, several members of my own party – who sneared at Ossie for this action, saying that it represented a departure from his roots. I regard that charge as improper. Outstanding men are not always to be measured by the same yardstick as the rest of us, for they have great virtues and, no doubt understandably, commensurate ... ah ... let me say susceptibilities. Some may argue that by doing nothing other than sticking to one’s guns, one does not do wrong. Others opine that leaders who adjust their postures in the light of what they perceive as epiphanies are, though open to carping from lesser mortals, made of the right stuff. I would not wish to be an arbiter in that debate.