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.
I’m sure we all remember Ossie’s last move, when he wound up his earlier activities to find his final political resting place with the new Extreme Centre Party – the last oscillation of the Briddle pendulum, as one wag put it. Certain unworthy minds construed this as meaning that Ossie had at last boxed the compass of party politics. I would rather say that if a man changes his spot . . . er, convictions from time to time, he must find the appropriate vehicle for his new aspirations. Not so very much wrong with that, you might agree.
Ossie was the most gregarious of men, forever stimulating his many friends in the House with hilarious anecdotes, together with something from that remarkable, apparently self-replenishing flask he always carried. It was a rare day when he did not entertain at least twenty people, separately. Often, the corridors reeked of . . . conviviality. Oswald Briddle was upright and sure-footed – attributes for which we were all thankful, especially at the end of each of his strenuous daily rounds. Not surprisingly, he faltered now and then, but I submit that a man who puts as much into life as he did might be excused for being a little over-stimulated at times.
Turning to the tales about Ossie’s supposed junketing, I say with some degree of confidence that they arose from false foundations, or at least rather questionable ones. If a man of some eminence needs to spend two or three months in the Bahamas to get a true feel for the social conditions in nearby Haiti, so be it. No-one can make the world a better place by selfishly sitting at home, whether the residence concerned be a local authority maisonette or a country mansion, of which Ossie had both.
Of course, the various political alignments of His Foxiness, as our late friend was dubbed – maliciously, I would say – by certain critics, entailed corresponding geographical changes, so we are today saying our last farewell to the member for, over the years, Sproatsley East, Leafbury-on-the-Wold, Udderham and Arkthorpe.
Finally, it would be remiss of me to neglect the opportunity to lay to rest a matter that has recently been uppermost in many minds. I refer to the rumours circulating during the last months of Ossie’s life. Allow me to say here and now, without too much fear of contradiction, that the tittle-tattle almost certainly exaggerated the facts. Each of us must have the right to a personal life, inviolate from general scrutiny. This applied to Ossie as much as to anyone else. Whatever his covert predilections – and who would argue that he was not entitled to any or all of them? – only the most uncharitable among us would still contend that Oswald Briddle dabbled in a field so repugnant that I cannot bring myself to speak of it. Rest in peace, Ossie.
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