The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Monday Hotel Grand Fromage, Bruxelles. There are those on the back benches who still believe that a minister's life is all beer and skittles. Well, perhaps they'd like to spend half their lives in Brussels arguing with a Finn about whether international bonds should be included in a withholding tax on the savings of non-EU residents. There you are, lusting for the power to save the world, help the poor, create a new Britain, and you end up spending all day scuttling between consultations with Treasury officials and hurried caucuses involving the finance minister of Luxembourg. Half the population of that mighty state must have had a turn as finance minister by now.

I won't go into details, otherwise these memoirs, when they're published, will seem impossibly detailed and technical. Poor old Norman Lamont has only sold 619 copies of his book since the Tory conference, which is a warning to us all. But the key point here is that the Europeans all want to press ahead with something that the City of London says will be bad for it, and there's only me and the bloke from Luxembourg arguing agin. Now, to be honest, I cannot fathom whether the Euros are right on this or not. They are so devious in their arguments that it is hard sometimes to tell what they actually are. One second you are dealing with the question as a matter of pure practicality, and in the next sentence it has transformed itself into the key test of commitment to the European Union itself.

Sauli Stomacelainen, the Finn in the chair, simply wants a conclusion. Like a jury foreman who's afraid of the judge, he's after a result so that we won't be sent back to a hotel to consider our verdicts overnight. He gets me on my own after we have made the British position clear, and addresses me in excellent English.

"You know, Lord English Minister," he says, pleasantly, pouring me some coffee from an adjacent cafetiere, "it is 13 to two. The resolving is not in the two, the resolving must surely be close to the 13. Otherwise it is natural that the manys will ask about the unanimity, and how it can be stopping progress, and not just over bonds."

Now this is the standard threat. You have a veto, but if you use it, then people will want to take it away. Stomacelainen knows perfectly well that I have no authority to do a deal. If I were to sign up to something that had "Come into the Garden" Maude climbing all over Mr Brown at the next Treasury questions, waving anguished comments from City analysts, then my balls would soon be dangling from the railings at No 11.

No, the whole idea is make me communicate discomfort to the boss. And I will. I mean, here we are at the heart of Europe and I have to sit at a large table enduring baleful looks from the Greek deputy finance minister, who has legs that go up to her armpits, and scornful grimaces from M. d'Haughtie, the strangely aristocratic French representative. Even the German, otherwise a Third Way soulmate by the look of him, seems impatient with me.

Tuesday Get back via Eurostar during Mr Brown's rabbit-pulling exercise in the House. M phones as I watch Maude being splattered all over the green benches. "Oh, Lynton, I'm glad I found you in. Brownie's in good, rumbustious form, isn't he? My goodness, how I'm looking forward to working co-operatively with him on the strategy for the next election. Not. As Ian Paisley would say. Speaking of whom, do you know, he called me this morning, ostensibly to talk about local government, and then asked me - out of the blue - which of the Village People I thought was the best singer. He said he liked the Indian most of all. Then the one with the hard hat. Odd. Must dash, got someone from the IRA coming in for a chat."

This article first appeared in the 15 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Guns and the Dome

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.