The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Sunday When I come down for my breakfast at 8am, Cheryl is sitting at the table, a slice of toast in her hand and the paper spread out over the plates, cups and cutlery. I observe her, unseen, from the doorway as she throws herself into the story that she's reading. "Ooh, the pig!" is followed by, "Quite right, too!" and then: "We're better off without them, love!"

From this I surmise that the Margaret Cook book has finally hit town. Our strategy at the office is to draw a clear line between the private and the public domains, but here in the kitchen on a Sunday morning, the sheets rumpled upstairs and the spouse rumpled downstairs, that division does not count for much. I take a deep breath, tie my dressing-gown cord more tightly around me and march in.

"Men!" says Cheryl, mustering all the venom at her disposal (a not inconsiderable amount) and spitting it in my direction. "And particularly left-wing men!" She beats at the paper with her toast-free hand. I catch a glimpse of a headline describing the esteemed (if unloved) Foreign Secretary as an "adulterous drunk".

Cheryl goes on: "What is it with you lot? Why can't you strap those useless things of yours inside your trousers, where they belong? And how can you ask for the trust of voters when you are prepared to lie so easily and so often to those who are supposed to be closest to you? Well, if you ask me, this woman," she beats the paper again, "has done us all a service. Though I don't suppose that you'll thank her."

I pour myself some tea. "Cheryl," I say, "tell me. First, if these 'things' of ours are so pitiful and pointless, why do you lot seem to care so much if someone else - temporarily persuaded that they might give pleasure - takes possession of them from time to time? Second, even the most cursory reading of the divorce statistics and the available research on infidelity shows that the real growth area in adulterous bonking is among married women. Third, we human beings are more likely to lie about sex than anything else. What, for instance, are your true feelings for Will Hutton? Twice in our recent infrequent bouts of love-making I have imagined that the words 'Oh Will!' have been whispered in our bedroom. And I can assure you, Cheryl, that they have not been uttered by me, since I regard Mr Hutton's recent criticisms of the government as both hurtful and wrong.

"Finally, I cannot be persuaded that what Margaret Cook has done is anything other than vengeful and - yes - spiteful. She has been terribly hurt, I agree. But this will not alleviate the pain; it will simply add to that of her family and her friends and - in the long term - to her own."

Cheryl now launches into a tirade about women who sacrifice their careers for men, which involves a lot of husks, spitting out and that sort of thing. At the end of which she makes an alarming assertion, to the effect that she, too, could tell the world a story about living with new Labour. "I'd make some money, it'd be therapeutic, the public would be educated and you'd have that grin wiped off your face!" she exclaims.

"Think of the things I could put in it! That time you got legless on Christmas Eve while making the mulled wine. Alcoholism. Your determination that we have sex in a gondola in Venice. Perversion. The hatred between you and Denis MacShane. Splits. Whoever it is that you're having fantasies about in the office right now (don't lie). Attempted adultery. All that and a bit of 'he sold his soul for office' and you'd be stuffed. So, Lynton my love, if you want to avoid headlines like this," she slashes at the paper with her toast, "be nice to me and keep your dick to yourself." And up she gets and out she walks.

This article first appeared in the 15 January 1999 issue of the New Statesman, A slight and delicate minister?