The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Friday "Ah, Lentil come in. Careful with your elbows: that large vase you're perilously close to is a valuable souvenir of Dubai. Fantastic beaches. If you ever get invited on a fact-finding mission there, say yes. Now, where were we?"

Dr Jack's skin is nut-brown, and his figure and hair, as ever, defy age. He is, I reflect, one of the enduring glories of British politics. He's never been left wing, he's never been right wing, he's never been in the centre; he has existed independent of all obvious means of support - a politician's politician. Almost everyone, except Britain's farmers, like him. He hands me a memo.

"It's from young Master Cameron or MacTavish or Clark, or whatever that press chap in the PM's office is called. They're all Scots, of course. Can't get anywhere these days unless you've got some Scots in you. But it's not a country, alas, where Concorde goes, so neither shall I. Anyway, what wee McSwegan says is that we are going to change our press strategy. The PM is fed up with us confronting all these serious problems like Ireland, youth unemployment and welfare all week long, only to be questioned at press conferences about Alfie J Pratt, Tony Tankard's life of M, what school little Aethelflaeda Blair goes to, and whether the occasional busy, over-taxed, conscientious minister allows his civil servants (despite his exhausted protests) to book him on Concorde, thus saving the taxpayer much expense from hurried decisions."

Dr Jack gives me a sharp little look, and continues. "So the new strategy is to go over the heads of the Sun, the Mail, the Guardian, the Reformer and other such tabloid rags, and appeal directly to the voters. That means radio, Logarithm, and television. The message is that where once we said 'No', we now say 'Yes, the minister is available.' OK?"

I nod, return to Starbuck and tell him that I am now more amenable to TV interviews than I have been. "We're going to put it about, Simon," I tell him. "It's time the good news got from Ghent to Aix." He regards me blankly and - not for the first time - it occurs to me that the education system is not what it was.

Tuesday It is 8.55am and I am sitting on the set of Vanessa, which - I have been told by the researcher with bad catarrh - is the "bost watched daydime delly brogamme in Bridain". Around me, in the audience, is a remarkable selection of the kind of people one always fears finding in one's constituency surgery. A scraggy-looking woman of about 40 leans over to me and says, "I'm 'ere for the bit on 'ow I 'ate my boobs. Worraboutyou?" I explain that I am there to explain the government's policies. She gives a bronchial cackle. "Not on this show, luv!" she warns, and turns to talk to the rather masculine-looking woman beside her. Who is, of course, a man.

Just then a vast blonde woman, who has clearly been dipped in a vat of Dior, enters the studio to applause. It is Vanessa herself. She wafts about like a dowager duchess for a bit and then comes over to me, smiles and whispers, "I am told that Richard and Judy have the Prime Minister, and I have you. You can imagine how pleased I am about this, and how I will do everything I can to make sure you remember this show." Touched, I thank her for her hospitality.

She gets to me after about 30 minutes discussing sex. So befuddled have I become by all this that I almost surrender to the urge to call her "Vagina" (which would not be a bad name for her programme). "A winter of scandals and departures," she declaims, "has rocked the government. Here to answer your questions about government sleaze is one of those shadowy spin-doctors. A big, hearty boo for Mr Lynton Charles!"

And no one boos more heartily than the scraggy woman with the sorry boobs.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Think, think and think again