The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Monday At lunchtime, just as I am in the door heading off to the Commons for a tryst with Damian McAdoo, I encounter Dr Jack returning from some journey or other. "Lampedusa! Just the man!" he hails me. Gripping my arm he tugs me into his office and proceeds to tell me about his trip to Croatia. The situation is grave, the region is seething, the Balkans are destabilised, we will have to prepare ourselves - and the British people - for the long haul.

He is all earnest and concerned, qualities that do not come naturally to Dr Jack. At one or two points I swear I can see tears beginning to form in the corners of those crafty eyes.

"Do you know, Ljubljana, just yesterday I was sitting in the old port of Dubrovnik, the evening sun was setting, a glass of plum brandy was on the table, and Mira Majic, the Croatian deputy minister for foreign affairs - what a woman! - was telling me her and her country's life story. And I thought, this is something I can help with, this really matters. So I thought I'd just warn you, my able deputy, that I may have to spend a good part of this summer on Balkan affairs."

"I bet you will," I mutter. But not until I am crossing Parliament Square. And is Lynton, for Christ's sake, such an impossible name to remember? I bet if The Master was called Lynton, Dr Jack would contrive to recall it. Oh yes - as poor old John Major used to say.

Talking of whom, my next port of call is a discussion, over cheese salad, with poor old Damian McAdoo, shadow employment spokesman and one of the Egg's inner circle. I lay the brown envelope that M gave me for him nonchalantly on the table. McAdoo swiftly deposits it in a small leather writing case. "Not a moment too soon, Lynton," he sighs, stirring his orange juice distractedly with his silver Parker. "What a disaster! The idea of old Lilley's speech was to loosen up those underpants, to give William a bit of space to permit his ideological testicles finally to drop. Now it looks as though the Egg has fallen off the wall."

I ask him whether things are really that bad. Surely, I reassure him, whenever one does something like this, one meets internal opposition? He shakes his elegant head sadly. "Lynton, have you ever seen Ann Widdecombe really, really angry? Those mad eyes! Those white teeth! That jackhammer voice! She went in to see the Egg last Wednesday after PMQs, and when she left he wouldn't come out of meditation all afternoon. Just sat there, cross-legged, staring straight ahead, going 'Ommmm'. We had to get Ffion over in the end."

I tell him that things can only get better, and leave him alone with his sorrow.

Wednesday M, Starbuck and I are sitting at the dark table by the loos in the Koh-I-Noor in Hendon. Starbuck has finally agreed to leave his flat now that the London nail-bomber may have been caught and the Serbian connection to Jill Dando's death has been dismissed. We are joined by a youngish Liberal Democratic MP.

"Lynton, Simon," says M, "I believe you know Nick Baggage?" We do indeed. Baggage was campaigns director for the RSPCA until he won the Devon seat of Torridge North in a by-election in '93. "Nick," he continues, "in addition to his other great charms and abilities, is riding point for the forces of co-operation and new politics. This is the first of many consultations, Lynton, aimed at assisting those forces to prevail in the forthcoming leadership elections. Formally, of course, we are merely interested bystanders. In reality the project requires deepening rapprochement. Nick here will liaise and advise us of actions we might usefully take to improve the chances of a successful outcome. Over to you, Nick."

Baggage clears his throat, and begins.