The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Monday Enforcers' breakfast this morning. This is a jolly little innovation introduced by Dr Jack since his return last week from inspecting the impact of pollution on the beaches of Mauritius. The idea is that we run through all the committees and interdepartmental problem areas that we are involved in, and rate them by priority. I have the Dome, the family, EurOK and London, Dr Jack is the main man on GM foods, the monarchy (he inherited this from M and is - he says - quite taken with Camilla) and foreign wars.

But, as ever, there's a new one. In 1997, for the first time in Labour history, we won the safe Tory seat of Sodham-on-Burton. The victor was an archetypal Blair babe in that (a) she was all fresh and naive, (b) no one had expected her to win except herself (precisely because she had been too naive to see that she must surely lose), and (c) she had monumentally pissed off the local old guard, who had expected one of their hoary number to fight the seat and get smashed - as always - and were distraught to see that fine losing tradition broken by an upstart.

But how could they get rid of Belinda McBee? Simple. They provided the beaten Tory with evidence that, far from having spent the agreed limit on the election campaign, Belinda and her agent had in fact lashed out three times as much, and signed a billet-doux to say so. Which amounts to election fraud. Now she's been struck off, Sodham Labour Party is in a state of open civil war and - far, far more important than either of these two - there's gonna be a by-election in a losable Labour constituency, for the first time since May 1997.

I wonder aloud to Dr Jack whether there's an MP in the House with a majority of less than 20,000 who wouldn't be in dead lumber if their election outlay was subject to strict scrutiny. I am not at all sure that the loan of five Noh-Kan-Do vans (before the company shut down the factory) for my campaign was really accounted for. If some snake-in-the-grass were to snitch on me, I, too, could find myself applying to universities for lectureships in politics and the media.

Dr Jack agrees. "Now someone has to take Sodham on, Lincoln, enforcer-wise. And it's a hiding to nothing, Lefley, a hiding to nothing. The chances are that we will lose, and that everybody associated with Sodham will find themselves tarred with the brush of disastrous failure. One for you, I think."

My mind races, and this is what I come up with. "You know I would, Jack. Anything for the cause. But you see, unfortunately Belinda McBee and I were something of an item back in my Keele days. So I'm a bit compromised."

And, on finishing this sentence, I realise with a jolt that - of course - what I've said is entirely true.

Wednesday It's tin hats time again here in the Laughter Ministry. Starbuck has phoned in to say that he feels queasy, and may not be well again until the war with Serbia is over. He is worried that some overseas element of the Belgrade Black Hand (or whatever their version of the SAS is called) will retaliate against Nato by blowing up his office, and him with it. We had this at the time of the last Gulf bombing, and it took me a week to persuade him to come back to work.

"I can operate just as well from Crouch End," he tells me. "I've got phones, a fax, a modem, a pager, News 24, the Internet and camomile tea, and if we really need to meet up, then I think Covent Garden is unlikely to be a target."

Unless some bloody American Stealth bomber hits it by mistake, I think to myself.

This article first appeared in the 26 March 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Eating people is wrong