Three wives, five years in the SWP, barley sugar theft: my ministerial career will be ruined

I can't think what brought it on, but all week I've been imagining that I was a high-ranking government minister and was suddenly required to produce a coherent explanation for one or other of my past moral lapses.

My initial worry was the caution I received for shoplifting in the early fifties. The actual circumstances were relatively straightforward. After school, a gang of us would troop over to Endbutt Stores, drape our satchels over the counter, and try to purloin Mars bars and sachets of a sherbet mix called Lingo-Fizz.

I reckon that as long as no one got to hear about the day we made off with a large glass jar of barley sugars and six packets of Senior Service, I might be able to persuade a parliamentary select committee that this was nothing more than a minor childish escapade with no greater moral significance than scrumping from a neighbour's apple tree. My only fear is that news of this little episode might prompt further revelations. One Sunday I'd be sitting at home congratulating myself on having buried the Endbutt Stores business when I'd find myself distracted from my ministerial papers by an exclusive story in the People from a former department-store manager which suggested that I was not so much an occasional scallywag as a full-time professional thief.

I'm talking about the sock sale back in the early sixties when the crush of people trying to hand me half-a-crown for a pair of Wolsey grip-tops at Owen Owen's store in central Liverpool became so great that it was only possible to deal with it by simply taking the money and ignoring the usual requirements to produce a proper receipt. Although I was called into the manager's office and formally sacked after three days of this bonanza, as far as I could tell there appeared to be no direct evidence that I'd been taking bags of half-crowns home apart from the implication contained in the manager's announcement that I'd no longer be needed because they'd decided to replace me with a machine - a cash register.

But if my luck held out and Owen Owen kept quiet, there'd still be the little problem of drugs. Recent examples from this area of moral impropriety suggest that there'd be no shortage of former friends and colleagues who'd be only too happy to tell the Sundays that they'd seen me with a joint in my hand at some time during my life. And even though one such sighting might be dismissed as relatively trivial, it would be difficult to hold to this line in the face of reports, photographs and video recordings from more than, say, 100 different sources. The only available ploy would probably be to knock out a confessional story called "My 35 years of cannabis hell" in which I revealed that I had, quite unknowingly, become an addict to reefers, and routinely used to consume up to a pound and a half of weed every day before breakfast until I was miraculously saved by the Sisters of Mercy.

I'm afraid, though, that would still leave me needing equally plausible explanations for my three marriages, five-year membership of the SWP and a brief but remarkably pleasant homosexual experience in Sheffield at the British Sociological Association's summer conference in 1973. In the circumstances, I probably have no alternative but to resign from high office and undertake five years social work in the East End of London, or to obtain conclusive evidence of my constitutional inability to answer for my past sins by submitting myself to an independent medical panel nominated by Jack Straw. It's rather a pity really. I was quite enjoying all those cabinet meetings.

This article first appeared in the 24 January 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The tyranny of the brands