The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Monday I hurtle out of a Dome meeting with Lord Charlie, and run across a cold Westminster Bridge, heading south. In front of me is the great pile of County Hall, once the centre of left resistance to the Thatcher regime, and now a gigantic hotel owned by someone called Makamoto or Fujimori. Sixteen years ago I remember attending various meetings of X Against Y: Lecturers Against the Nazis; Academics Against the Cuts; Men Against Sexist Advertising, that sort of thing. In fact, I first met quite a few of my current colleagues in government in some of those gatherings.

Looking back on it, they were dreadful. I don't mean that I now, with the benefit of a new Labour perspective, regard them as dreadful - they were dreadful then. The tone was one of constant and unvarying crossness; the speeches interminable and hectoring. Every loony with a grudge came out of the woodwork. Valerie Wise or some other hatchet-faced amateur ideologue would come down and tell us what to think. So being on the side of right was sometimes an exhausting and dispiriting business. And at the summit, like Mao, was Red Ken - the only man who managed to sound like he was having fun in all this mayhem. No wonder that many of us feel a combination of resentment and guilt about those far-off days.

In what used to be a committee corridor is the Four Seasons Chinese restaurant, and it is there, overlooking the Thames, that I meet my conspirators. The lunch has been set up by Baroness Brassey, a strikingly handsome former left Labour GLC councillor and now the leading anti-Ken campaigner. We are joined by a couple of new London MPs, who look and sound like that singing duo from the eighties, Chas and Dave, and are now big wheels in the capital.

Yvonne Brassey opens the discussion up over seaweed and spring-rolls. "Let's not pussy around," she says. "Ken's organisation is up and running. Every Trot, malcontent and unreconstructed whinger in town is on the march, and we haven't even got a candidate yet. Or rather we've got ten, and that amounts to the same thing. It's shit or get-off-the-pot time. There's no use looking to No 10 on this one; they're determined to keep out of it. They don't think it'll help if they're involved and - should the worst come to the worst - they'll have to try and work with whoever gets chosen."

I nod sagely; this makes sense. The baroness continues. "All we have to do is to agree a name, push up behind them and then go up behind Labour Party members and whisper 'Dave Wetzel!' or 'GLC Women's Committee' in their ears, and it should all fall into place. But who?"

Who indeed? Dobbo definitely won't do it. Apparently he's never much liked London anyway. Chrissie Smith is not tempted, but The Master could bully him into it. Glenda might quite fancy it, but she's so hair-shirted and anal these days (Yvonne's words, not mine) that no one wants her. Nick Raynsford is interested-ish, which about sums him up. So - unless there is a cabinet deus ex machina - that leaves the problematic candidature of charismatic TV presenter, Tony Phallos.

Phallos has a lot going for him, Chas and Dave concede. He's popular, represents an ethnic minority (Greek Cypriots), women love him and he is passionate about London. "But he's not a party man," says Chas. "He lives in a penthouse in Mayfair and his eldest son has his name down for Eton. He's never been a councillor for a ward full of broken glass and dogshit, and he has no time for endless committee meetings and caucuses."

I clear my throat. "Sounds like our guy!" I tell them.

This article first appeared in the 12 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Kick out the image-makers