The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Christmas Eve Never glad, confident morning again. What a falling off was there, from this to this. Oh fie. Posterity must excuse my emotion at the passing, politically, of one of the great men of my generation. M gone, and for what? Not declaring a private loan from a fellow MP to his permanent secretary, or disclosing his mortgage arrangements to the PM. Pish!

Cheryl is quietly cockahoop. The Iraq bombing went down very badly with the Unison feminist network, who collectively believe that all war is wrong and that violence should be reserved for fox-hunters and husbands, so she is agin the government in a big way at the moment. She reads and rereads the newspapers with a savour that she never showed for the fall of John Major. And she has never forgiven M for (a) helping us to win power and denying her the comfortable - if sterile - virtue of total opposition, and (b) habitually calling her "Beryl" whenever she answers the phone. ("It is her spiritual name, Lynton," he used to argue, when remonstrated with.) Now she has her revenge.

Dr Jack, of course, partly blames me. "He was your friend, Loofah," he said to me on Tuesday, as the world fell apart. "All that highfalutin Lady Carla Powell and Camilla country-life bollocks, all that theatrical nancy-boy, minimalist furniture and design crap, all that 'Notting Hill Gate to the Groucho Club and step on it cabbie, my absinthe's waiting' baloney. God knows, there's nothing wrong with living well: long holidays in sunny places, pretty girls, nice tan, good clothes, parliamentary delegations to Fiji, tickets to the Cup Final and the Royal Opera, bachelor pad in Kennington - all declared. But that's not good enough for your mate, oh no.

"And who has to go on national radio and make a complete arsehole of himself over it? I do. The Master is distraught, Lester, and some people I know should be consulting their consciences. Now tell me - before the News of the World, via Alfie J Pratt, does - have you borrowed any undeclared dosh from Generous Geoff?"

I reassure him on this point. We bought Knob's End long before I ever met the ex- paymaster-general, with a loan from Cheryl's dad, and the flat in London is a tiny, rather insanitary affair that Cheryl chose for me herself, on the basis, I suspect, that no woman would ever go into it.

Starbuck has been in tears practically the whole week. When I left him yesterday he was still inconsolable. "He was my mentor, Mr Lynton Charles, sir. The Lubyanka under M was like the school of Socrates in ancient Greece. There he would be, dispensing wisdom, love and the occasional quick jab to the groin, and we youngsters, political virgins all, would imbibe from the well of his knowledge. Where would we be without him?"

Wormwood, bitter wormwood, to hear the crowing from the anti-power left, and to imagine 100 colleagues who owe their existence to M now condemning him, or shaking their hoary locks with an insincere, "I always thought that, sooner or later . . ." No, I am shattered by this news. Gutted. Wrung out. I fill the twins' stockings without enthusiasm, and even the lesson of nine carols fails to lift my spirits.

"Oh, the holly bears a berry, as red as any blood," sings the choir of King's.

Tears fill my eyes.

And the phone rings. "Lynton, darling! I thought I simply must phone and wish you and Beryl a fabulous festive season. But you sound surprised to hear my exquisitely modulated tones. You shouldn't be. How does the old song go? 'I thought I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you or me . . .' I am not dead but resting. I will have some adventures and then I will return. In the meantime I shall need you to be my friend more than ever. You will help your loving old M, won't you?"

This article first appeared in the 01 January 1999 issue of the New Statesman, An earthquake strikes new Labour