The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Monday Slippery is out of the closet. No surprises there. But the first poll of Londoners (conducted by the Guardian, naturally) produces a result so astonishingly bad that, for two hours, my mind refuses to accept it: Slippery 90 per cent, Dobbo 5 per cent, Shagger 3 per cent, Thatwomanwithfunnyhairfromtheliberals 2 per cent.

Ed and I sit together in the Fort Knox tea bar and we attempt a statistical possibility exercise (well, he does). There are seven weeks to go. Allow, say, 60 per cent of Slippery's support to be very soft and based on his recent celebrity. Twenty per cent of it must be Tories, so we target Ken for his left-wing extremism, and return them to Shagger's pile. Ten per cent should be Lib Dem, so we heap praise on that woman, keep saying her name so they remember it (whatever it is), and bring them back to her fold. So we have now edged him down to 60 per cent.

Our job now is to cross the gap between 60 per cent and 5 per cent in seven weeks. We've got to get Dobbo that crucial 35 per cent which is usually Labour. "It's a hill to climb," says Ed. "A hard act to pull off," I reply.

And we look into each other's eyes.

Tuesday The press adore Slippery. They give him the token hard time for having lied about his intentions, but his reply - "Yes, I lied, but there you are" - seems to satisfy them completely. It's a unique strategy. Suppose that, by the general election, we have failed, say, to get waiting-lists down. The Master's way would probably be to admit some failure, while drawing attention to progress elsewhere. The Slippery technique, however, would be to wear that pained half-smile and say: "Yes, I lied in 1997. It was a quite impossible promise, but what could I do? I had an election to win." Staggering.

Meanwhile, poor old Dobbo wants to talk about policy. The trouble is that people who are losing elections always say they want to talk about policy. How did we ever get into a position whereby we had to plead with the press and voters to let us talk about policy? We sound like the bloody Lib Dems.

Wednesday In the morning, looking up from my paperwork in Fort Knox, I see M slipping into the room via the revolving bookcase.

"Lynton, my lovely one! I trust the great task of financial governance goes well? I have been preoccupied with the Hibernian tribes in recent weeks and have had little time for affairs over here. How, for instance, have you managed the Slippery business in my absence?"

I don't get it, I tell him. "How is it that unemployment is the lowest since the Romans ruled Britain, inflation almost non-existent, average earnings are going up, everybody's richer, we've had one war and won it without loss of life on our side, there's not been one serious rift in the government, and all that, and yet - as far as I can see - everyone hates us?"

M produces two lattes from behind his back, pulls a packet of croissants from his pocket and sits back in the armchair, his loafered feet on my desk.

"Look at it," he advises, "from their point of view. Tony and Gordon are like kindly but infuriating parents who want nothing but the best for their kids. And that involves a lot of mild chiding. They shouldn't stay out too late, they ought to do their homework, they must think about packing in smoking, they should invest in a computer in case the other kids leave them behind. And then, in the middle of this sanctimony (oh, I love that word), they catch us out in a fib. We promised this kind of voting system, and gave them that sort because it suited us better."

"The electorate has gone up to its bedroom," he concludes, "slammed the door and put on its Red Ken album. But it'll be down again for its supper. Just you wait."

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Ken, the great conductor