The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Monday Starbuck is seat-hunting. Poor old Derek Fatchett is barely cold, and already the bright young things, the time-servers, the local activists, are circling his Leeds constituency in hope of selection. Simon explains candidly - tears welling in his eyes - that he and others had the galling experience in 1997 of seeing less talented and favoured contemporaries win unwinnable seats that they themselves had passed over as hopeless. "Since then, Mr Lynton Charles, sir, no one's died, and no one's become a European commissioner. It's bad for democracy to have such a low turnover."

Tuesday I have been summoned. As the cabinet meeting breaks up, I make my way to The Master's small private office. Naturally I bump into the grown-ups, caucusing in vestibules. I am treated with unusual respect. The Witchfinder General greets me cheerily, a glint in his spectacles; Alistair Darling winks at me; Clare Short slaps me on the bottom. I think they've heard the word.

He is in his shirtsleeves. "Hi, Lynton. Good to see you. Look, it's some time before the reshuffle, but I want to sound you out. A mutual friend says you'd go to the Treasury. Is that right?" He cocks his head on one side, like a wise parakeet, and regards me carefully.

I tell him (as instructed by M) that I exist only to serve.

"Well, look, mum's the word. But I'm minded, as the phrase goes, to make that happen. Go and see him. Talk things over. Don't be put off. He reminds me of that poem by Lear. Y'know: 'some think him ill-tempered and queer, but a few think him pleasant enough'. Now, Lynton, what do you think of the war?"

Wednesday Mr Brown is by the fireplace in his huge, huge, high office. His eternal shadow, Clever Ed, sits by him, pen and notebook in hand. I am directed towards a high-backed chair and given a rather charming, ominous smile. Instead of talking about the weather, we agree that the French economic recovery is going well. Then . . .

"Are you a diarist, Lynton?" he asks. I concede that, yes, I do jot down the occasional aide-memoire of this incredible period in modern Labour-movement history (Scots like it when you talk about the "Labour movement"). He nods. His chin is now so prominent that it feels as though I am in danger of being prodded from my chair.

"I am not a vain person, Lynton, but allow me to observe that posterity is of some importance to me. But posterity is a subjective construct, so I feel that there are three possibilities. First, you can forfeit, almost before you begin, any hope of a trusting relationship with me. Second, you can share - let us say on a weekly basis - your reminiscences with me, and we can work on them together. Or third, you can leave off altogether. Let Ed," he gestures towards the scribbling egghead, "know which one you decide on. He'll also give you some homework to be getting on with. In the meantime, until July, goodbye."

I phone M. His advice is heartening. "I think a moratorium is called for, dearest. Set aside your chronicles for the next couple of months. Make no notes; attempt no recollections until, say, August. Then, if it looks as though he's forgotten about it, what with the economy to run, sneakily take it up again."

Ed sounds happy when I tell him that I'm packing the thing in. I don't tell him that it's only pro tem. "Good decision, L," he tells me. "Now," he continues, "I have a reading list. Twenty or so key texts, 40 of Mr Brown's most important speeches, a score of my own monographs and essays. I'll e-mail it all to you. Enjoy."

So, dear diary, a gap beckons. But it's just a pause, I promise. Lynton will be back!

This article first appeared in the 31 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Between two mental universes