The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Friday My lower abdomen buzzes. Following the successful launch of our families policy discussion document on Wednesday, the Witchfinder General has set up a number of cross-departmental groups to look at aspects of the debate. I have been asked to chair the marriage and relationship counselling working party, and - God help me - Zero Anstiss has been seconded to assist. It is her sexy, sharp voice that is interrupted by the sudden outbreak of vibration in my groin.

I look down and press the offending spot. The buzzing stops and a little message lights up. "CASE RED. PHONE STARBUCK ASAP. BROWN OUTED." I feel faint, as though I've just had a reverse blood transfusion. The breath knocked out of me, I wait until Zero has finished a scratchy little monologue on new concepts in contemporary marriage, and hoarsely adjourn the meeting. Then, with barely time to unfurl my umbrella against the driving autumn rain, I dash back to the Cabinet Office.

Starbuck is waiting in my office, with that bizarre grin on his face that tells me that something very bad indeed is happening. "Is it true? When will it break? Is it a resignation?" I blurt out the questions in quick succession. Starbuck barely has time to tell me that, yes it's true, that a statement is being prepared to pre-empt a Sunday newspaper story, and that - no - this is not a resigning matter, because nothing untoward has taken place. An ex-boyfriend has gone to the tabloids with false tales of payment. "There is a handling meeting of enforcing and media relations personnel in a couple of minutes time, Mr Lynton Charles, sir. But Dr Jack would like a word with you first."

In a daze I walk down the corridor. First Ron Davies, then M, and now this! I am so lost in unpleasant reverie that I walk headfirst into a man moving the other way. I look up and find myself eyeball to eyeball with Mr Brown himself. I am thrown for a second. After all, what do you say in this situation? I elect for sympathy. "Hi!" I say as breezily and matily as possible. "Hello," says Brown, in a surly manner. "In a hurry?" "Well," I reply, "we have to do our best for you. And can I just say how right I think you are to be so candid?" "Thanks." "Of course, there but for the grace of God go all of us," I say. He agrees, but I feel he's drawing away. "I mean," I go on, confidingly, "we all have a little of that capability, don't we? Even the most, how shall I put it, butch of us. I myself once may have exercised that side of my nature." Briefly I tell him the tale of waking up, that morning in Keele many years ago, next to the chap from Men Against Sexism. Far from looking consoled by this information, Mr Brown now seems decidedly alarmed. I take his arm. "But tell me," I ask him, "how has Sarah taken the news?"

Kindly, in view of the circumstances, Mr Brown mutters something about how I may be in more need of help than anyone else and practically runs away down the corridor, towards No 10. A brave, brave man, who will need all his courage in the days ahead.

I knock on Dr Jack's door and enter. "It's wonderful," I tell him as I sit down, "that we live in such tolerant times. It would have been unimaginable just two years ago. Today, outside this very office, I have just met the first out gay Chancellor of the Exchequer!"

Dr Jack drops his cup of Lemsip. "Not two on the same day, Loseley! At this rate I'll discover that I'm gay by the end of the week. I don't think I can take any more surprises." And he picks up the hotline to Alastair Campbell.

This article first appeared in the 13 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Why gays become politicians

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David Cameron’s starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the government dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up to £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it, while reducing the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.