The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Tuesday In the House for Treasury questions. We line up in row on the front bench: Mr Brown, Red Dawn, aSmith, Shona McBegg and me, our various PPSs hissing statistics and useful rebuttals in our ears. Oratorically, Mr Brown's prowess is legendary at one end of the scale, and aSmith's whining monotone notorious at the other. The rest of us are somewhere in between, though I like to think that I occasionally reach Brownian heights when suitably provoked.

The Tories, of course, cannot lay a glove on us, even with El Lippo now on their front bench. Inflation is low, spending is up, unemployment continues to fall. So the only problems come from our own side. But they do come.

Media flavour of the week takes the pugilistic form of Mike Murgatroyd, the former Hammer of the Trots from Merseyside, who has sloughed off the itchy skin of ministerhood and revealed an unexpectedly colourful set of scales underneath. Murg, as the party knows him, has reinvented himself as a "critical friend" - an oxymoron if ever there was one. Unless, of course, you have pals who go around telling your family and friends that you're a neglectful father, a bad husband, and that you secretly visit lap-dancing clubs when you say you're going to the gym.

Sure enough, he has a supplementary question on our watch, asking Mr Brown whether he will take note of a strong feeling "on this side of the house" that the forthcoming tax cut should instead be spent on the poor who provide the bedrock of Labour support, and so on and so forth. Mr Brown sonorously recites the litany of measures taken to help the unemployed and those on low incomes, while keeping the reproach in his voice to a minimum.

I feel less restrained when encountering Murgatroyd in the tearoom afterwards. He is sitting, plotting with a Welshman, when I approach, tea in hand and ask if I can sit down. "On a mission from God, Lynton?" he asks me.

"No," I tell him. "Just keeping channels open."

I dunk my Bourbon and cut to the chase. "You do know that you're in danger of unravelling our whole strategy for getting taxpayer's money to your constituents, don't you?" I say. "I mean, there are all these lower-middle-class types in my seat and ones around it who have gaily signed up to the greatest redistribution of modern times, where in the past they'd have bitten your arm off if you'd come round with a Help the Aged tin.

"And why? Because we've left income tax alone and cut them in on the education and health spending, and because the economy's good. My God, we've fleeced them in every other way! We've taxed their pension funds, taken away their mortgage interest relief, whopped up their stamp duty (a concept I'll have to explain to you one day), and they still want to vote for us."

"All we have to do," I continue, "is to give them back this eeny tax cut and they'll think we're a party of Santas. But no, that's not good enough for you, is it? You've got to rub their noses in it, inform 'em that their pips are squeaking, invite them to tell us to take a running jump, just so that a job lot of superannuated Bevan nostalgics in Liverpool can feel better about themselves. Don't you get it?"

"Oh I get it all right," says Murg. "You're asking me to forego being mayor of Liverpool just so that you can win the election after next. Well, the message from Merseyside, as it is from Wales," (he nods at the mate of Organ Morgan's who is sitting with us) "is go back to Hampshire, Lynton. They like you there."

Oh well, I think, as I trudge back to Fort Knox, I tried. Thank God for William Hague.

This article first appeared in the 21 February 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Just wait for the gold rush to end