The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Tuesday Budget Day. We are on photocall, first in the canteen at the Treasury and then on the steps of No 11. Mr Brown forgets his money when filmed buying his coffee, and I have to lend him a fiver on the urgent demand of "Money! Money!" That should look good on the one o'clock news. At three, we all troop off to the House and take our seats.

Then Mr Brown gets up to speak. The delivery and the phraseology - "prudence with a purpose", "productivity through prosperity", "a job, not a Giro" is relentless, as is the deployment of statistics. Gradually, the booming voice convinces all about him that things could not be any different, that nature intended and demanded just such a Budget as this - and no other.

The Tories sink lower and lower on their benches, and even our own people behind me are intimidated into silence. It is like an ant in a cornfield watching the onward march of a combine harvester. The machinery may be complex. But the intention is awesomely simple. Only when Mr Brown gets to the bit about how we are going to put trillions into health do our lot seem to liven up a bit. I suspect that many of them have been so convinced by his arguments for prudence that they're now suddenly worried about spending anything at all.

Mr Brown sits down and it's the Egg's turn. He's been sitting next to El Lippo taking urgent notes, with the barmy army rolling its eyes behind him. But you've got to hand it to him: he's good. Dealt a hand of twos and threes, he plays them with a ridiculous vigour, as though he hasn't noticed how hopeless it all is. It must be all that transcendental meditation he does. Sounding like one of those model planes or boats being raced across a park space, he manages to find the chinks and weaknesses in our position: the stealth taxes, the gap between claim and reality, all the myriad little lies of government, which - once uttered - can never be unuttered. By the time he sits down, I feel as though I've been bitten all over by a very small mosquito.

M, standing beside me on the steps by the Speaker's chair, is admiring. Up to a point. "All that courage for nothing," he enthuses. "Of course, the Egg's like Slippery in that respect. In negative terms, he's brilliant, and getting better. When he sticks the knife in, we actually bleed these days. But Lynton, dearest, what's he for? Is the lovely smooth boy for health or for tax cuts? Does he want richer suburbanites and poorer pensioners? Does he yearn for schoolbooks in the classroom, or spondoolies in the purses of blue-rinsed socialites? No one knows, least of all him. And yet, come the election - no matter what Slippery has done to us in London, never mind the inevitable reverses to come in the council elections - the Egg will be examined and found wanting. Shame. Good speaker, hopeless strategist."

I hang around in the tearoom afterwards, and observe a curious phenomenon. A couple of heartland MPs come up to me, and I expect to be congratulated on the health spending. After all, they've been whingeing quietly for months about their activists. They're the sort of blokes that drink with Tony Tankard of the Mirror and have constituencies that even rivers won't run through. And both of them wonder aloud whether we shouldn't have given just a little more away in tax! Wasn't there something we could have done with allowances that would have benefited the low paid and the middle classes? Instead of paying back all that national debt, say?

So it isn't just The Master who's scared of Middle Britain after all. Oh well, there's still another Budget to go. Plenty of time for all to have prizes. Which makes me wonder if I'll ever see my fiver again.

This article first appeared in the 27 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - How we have lost the joy of sex