The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Thursday It's early, and the man on the phone is in a state.

"He's losing it, Mr Lynton Charles sir, losing it!" Starbuck's voice quivers. "Were you at PMQs yesterday? Did you see?" I wasn't, I tell him, I didn't, because I have fiduciary things to do. Was it really so bad?

"Bad? Bad? Not one, not two, but three slips of the tongue! I was in the public gallery and the Tories were loving it, while our lot were distraught. He looks exhausted, exhausted. White face, lines on his forehead, weedy voice. And where is the leadership? We're getting crucified on the euro, everyone's talking about spin, and all our people with majorities of less than 10,000 are beginning to think about retraining. How did it happen, Mr Lynton Charles sir? A majority of 179 and it's all going tits up. What more can possibly go wrong?"

I try to soothe him. "Simon, Simon. It's a bad patch. Every government has one. Maggie did. We're still ahead in the polls, unemployment's down, inflation's low. The money will come though in the next year. Don't panic, Simon, don't panic."

I put the phone down, turn around and nearly jump out of my skin. M - who I took to be overseeing Orange-hosing in Ulster, is sitting in the corner of my office. His shoulders are shaking and, for a terrible moment, I think he's crying. I go closer, and see that - in fact - he's laughing.

"Starbuck?" he asks. I nod. "Panicking?" I nod again. "Well, I just wish I could be there when he hears the latest," says M, and the shoulder shake begins again. I am alarmed. "What is it?" I ask.

"Darling," says M. "Do you remember that splendid speech given by The Master to the assembled liberal Catholic theologians last week? In which he sagely suggested manhandling drunken young yobbos down to the cashpoint and relieving them of a hundred quid on the spot?" I tell him that I recall both that and the ensuing embarrassment when the high plod disowned the idea as totally unworkable.

"So, on a scale of one to ten - one representing no problem, and ten a catastrophe of Biblical proportions - what would you say to Blair Honourable Son Number One being found in Leicester Square, dead drunk and puking his guts up all over the public highway? Is that not a ten, or something close?"

I am dumbfounded. Why us? First the Witchfinder General's son sells drugs to a journalist in a pub and now - unbelievably - this. Are we hexed? When we were on the up, it was Clare Short's moving rediscovery of her adopted son. Now our kids are misbehaving all over the shop, usually within hours of major speeches urging people not to do the very thing that they then go and do themselves.

"Ten," I tell him.

"Wrong!" says M triumphantly. "That's why I am here. Advising. Giving of my essence. And it's bloody perfect, Lynton, though I can say it to none but you. There's nothing so noble as the stag at bay. Can you see it? This afternoon he's talking to black Christians, who love all that redemption stuff. Remember where Clinton went after Monica? That's one standing ovation he'll get on camera. A nice 'prick me, do I not laugh' speech, and they'll be all over him. Then tonight it's Question Hour with that pompous arse, Dimbleby. And he can do it all over again for four million people. 'It's not been the best of days. More in sorrow than anger. Parent's job is a hard one, right up there with mining gold on the moon,' etc. No one does it better, because no one means it more. And where does it leave The Egg? Carping, vaguely inhuman, untroubled by the concerns that dog the rest of us. Bloody brilliant."

And he laughs that strange laugh again.

This article first appeared in the 17 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Special Report - Lost souls in the city in the sky