The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Tuesday Having passed most of the day opening a business park near Wigan, I sink back into a first-class seat on the Virgin train and sleep half of the way back to Euston. The encouragement of entrepreneurialism is, of course, a key part of the government's long-term strategy and - as far as I can judge - this park looked pretty entrepreneurial: you know, modern and full of computers and stuff like that. But, to be honest, 15 years spent in the British university system as it used to be and seven years as a full-time politician are not the best preparation for judging the dynamic potential of this Internet company or that finance firm.

We arrive in the station just after 7pm, and there's a sense of excited anxiety in the air; like there used to be round Westminster when the IRA had just fired the mortar at No 10 or left a van bomb on the corner of Northumberland Avenue. As I walk up the ramp, I can hear the muffled thuds and shouting. It is a very particular noise, and one I dimly remember from picket-lines in the seventies: the sound of police and demonstrators having a right old barney.

My fellow passengers and I have hardly emerged on to the concourse before we are spotted by a small gaggle of placard-wielding youngsters, some of whom (allowing for facial jewellery) look exactly like I did all those years ago, when the issues were Vietnam and apartheid. Their hair is all over the place (and worse), their clothing - in these days of DKNY - is stuff that the third world has sent back to Oxfam.

A young woman with a sweet face, dreadlocks and pantaloons approaches me, with an intention - I can tell - of entering into a one-sided dialogue.

"Excuse me, sir," she says. "We're holding an action to highlight the domination of the world by greedy multinationals, and the police are repressing us outside at this very moment." There's a large confirmatory crash, as someone shoves a luggage trolley down the Tube escalator. She continues: "Would you like to wear one of our badges and support us?" I peer at the badge. It says "Down With Capitalism" in lurid green letters. Sometimes it's best to take the line of least resistance, but I imagine to myself, just for a moment, the impact of a photograph in the FT of a Treasury minister calling for the downfall of capitalism. I decline, politely.

"But surely," she persists, "you're not on the side of companies like Shell in Nigeria, or Nestle with its dried baby milk, exploiting the third world, are you?"

No, I tell her, I'm not. But neither am I entirely against capitalism. I used to be, of course; believed it was historically doomed and all that. And I still don't like, you know, rapacious monopolies. But what's the alternative?

"The alternative is a world in which we produce for need and not for greed," she replies emphatically.

"Yes," I say, "but according to what system of production?"

"Why do you always need a system?" she asks, a pitying smile on her lips. "Systems are merely put in place by the rulers to suppress the poor and the young."

For a moment I contemplate a disquisition on the subject of the Third Way; on how the best bits of capitalism can be harnessed, how regulation can get rid of the worst bits. I decide against it, but I do tell her that, sometimes, I feel capitalism is like the sea - it doesn't matter what we think of it, it's always going to be there, so we might as well build up the flood defences and take our towels down to the beach.

A tear wells up in her eye. "That's so defeatist!" she says fiercely, and moves off. But then, she was only about eight when the wall came down. What does she know about capitalism?

This article first appeared in the 06 December 1999 issue of the New Statesman, My night with Mad Frankie Fraser