The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Friday Ed and I are in the Fort Knox canteen, following a meeting about fiscal policy in which I have understood roughly one word in ten. We drink mineral water and absorb the latest polls in the Evening Standard. These purport to show that the Egg's recent offensive, though not enough to allow him actually to hold seats, has certainly damaged us. The ominous statistic is that we are now regarded as being "out of touch" and the Egg is seen as being more "in touch".

I explode. "In touch with what!" I exclaim, nearly tipping Ed's Badoit over his personal organiser. "What does it take to be 'in touch'? Trolling around the country moaning that we are all being taken over by mad Kosovars? Proposing a shotgun over every hearth? Is that what it takes? Because, if so Ed, then I, for one, am glad that we are out of bloody touch!"

"People are staring," says Ed.

Sunday The scene this time is the garden, where the twins play farmers and robbers in the shed and Cheryl and I bicker over the Sunday papers on the patio. It is she who cracks first, hurling down the Observer with a cry of disgust.

"And now Sierra bloody Leone!" she spits. "Can't this lot get anything right?"

I begin as calmly as I can to explain that a British presence is essential to allow the UN to have any chance of preventing the hand-chopping rebels from taking over.

Cheryl interrupts. "What are you blathering about, Lynton? I'm not complaining that we're sending too many soldiers there. I'm angry that we're sending too few!"

Is this, I ask myself, the same Cheryl who opposed the Gulf war, attacked the bombing of Serbia and has resolutely condemned just about every military involvement this country has ever had, up to and including the Peninsular war? Out loud I wonder at her inconsistency. What is the difference between Kosovars and Sierra Leoneans?

"Sierra Leoneans are black!" she nearly says. But not quite.

Tuesday More polls. And now it gets personal. The Guardian, ever quick to spot a bit of knocking-copy, has the results of a survey that not only covers voting intention, but rates every cabinet minister. Unlike the Telegraph, which hypes up every statistic it ever prints to favour the Tories, the Guardian, true to type, makes things appear as bleak for us as possible. We are only 7 per cent ahead in this first post-Slippery poll, and it confirms that nasty feeling we're getting back from the wards.

But what has got Mr Brown in a bate this morning is the rankings. We are having one of our regular Treasury liaisons with Red Dawn, aSmith and Tim Timms, the 18-feet-tall postmaster-general from Newham. Before we begin, and over coffee, the talk turns to ups and downs.

Red Dawn notes that while Mr Brown may have slumped by 22 points in the approval index, that is 12 points less than The Master, who is now only plus one, while Mr Brown is plus two! Meanwhile, Alan Milburn at Health is minus 12, Stevie Byers is minus five and jolly Jack Prescott is minus 22, down fiftysomething!

Mr Brown scowls. "I am completely unmoved by such gimmicks, as you know," he rumbles. "Regarding them as pure newspaper vanity. But, since they are proffered, I am bound to observe how strange it is that Clare Short should be plus 12, that M should be plus 14, and that Mo is plus 40. What does that tell you about how we are viewed by the electorate? No? I'll tell you, then. It seems that the less a minister has to do and the less they see him or her, the more he or she is approved of. So my conclusion is that no one is to step outside this building until the general election campaign begins."

He looks round at our stricken faces, and then smiles. "Joke!" he says.

This article first appeared in the 22 May 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Hacking their way to a fortune