18 JANUARY 1975, Page 7

Westminster Corridors

There is a Species of Woman whom I shall distinguish by the name of Salamander. Now a Salamander is a kind of heroine in Chastity, that treads upon Fire and lives in the midst of Flames without being hurt. It would greatly have heartened my Cousin Addison, therefore, to have known Mrs Barbara Castle, who in her skill at remaining apparently unsinged easily outplays the other Female Members of this Ruffian Administration. It is true that Lovely Miss Joan Lestor from Eton did recently get her Russet Tresses burnt in a somewhat fiery Encounter with our beloved Prime Minister.

Then there was the incident late in the Old Year when that Zealot Mrs Secretary Williams put Glum Pasha into an even greater downcast study by saying that she was against the Arabs and would give up Politicks if ever the Ruffians sought to withdraw from Europe.

Mrs Judith Hart (on whose behalf the chief bellower and prancer Mr Andrew Faulds from Smethwick once stole some Tarts) was for her part quite agile in avoiding the Heat when she rushed round the Club shrieking "a farewell to Arms."

But Mrs Salamander Castle's skill is quite unrivalled. She initially started the conflagration from her thousand-pounds-a-week bed in the London Clinic where she was reconvering from the shock of her husband's elevation to the Peerage. She said then, my Readers will recall, that private medicine was bad and contrary to something wittily dubbed 'the Social Contract.' The fact that someone called BUPA (the Blackburn Underpaid Politician's Association) was footing her bills seemed not to worry Salamander at all. For, the moment she was discharged (which implies that she was charged in the first place, but no matter) she ordered that all the private beds in Britain be vacated. This was an embarrassment for Glum Pasha who even at that moment was conducting some delicate and very secret negotiations with the seven hundred Arab Sheiks who happened to be in those beds.

The Prime Minister, in that pragmatic way of his, hastily moved the Patients to special quarters at Lord North Street, Chequers and Transport House and ordered the Duchess of Falkender to find suitably qualified Medicks.

The Doctors, quite understabdably, told the Duchess that they refused to be pawns in some Political Game and it was only the timely arrival of Mr Secretary Benn in his ' junior Doctor Kildare rent a nurse kit' that saved an ugly situation from becoming positively nasty. In the event, 'Hotspur' Benn injected several million pounds of Government intervention into the ailing Arabs and at the same time nationalised the Red Cross and Battersea Dogs' Home. Glum Pasha and Mr Secretary Callaghan breathed sighs of relief and were able to continue with their application for membership of the United States of Araby. This Mr Benn should remember that there is nothing in which Men more deceive themselves • than in what the World Calls Zeal.

There are so many Passions which hide themselves under it and so many Mischiefs arising from it that my friend Sir Simon d'Audley says it would have been for the Benefit of Mankind if Zeal had never been reckoned in the Catalogue of Virtues. Silly Mr Benn, having campaigned furiously for election to the TUC economic committee and ' (in the absence of any other candidates) having been elected, suddenly discovered that he might be in a classic 'conflict of interests situation'.

The Duchess says that Mr Benn has become quite impossible since Christmas when Glum Pasha and Mary Wilson gave him the Golden

Hands Book of Crafts in the mistaken belief that it would keep his hands full. They should have

left him with his Meccano Set and Doctor Who Immobiliser Raygun. Now, she warns, he will be dabbling in Race Relations (how to make a Golliwog on page four), in Prices and Incomes (how to make money in chapter ten), and, worst of all, in her own domain, the Prime Minister's private office (how to make a Duchess).

Tom Puzzle