The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Sunday I am spending a morning reading the hyped newspaper highlights of various books by political hacks. Simon Runt of the Observer has inside information that Mr Brown is sometimes difficult. Sensational! Lydia Longbottom of the Express, meanwhile, tells us that Mo was frozen out of government by being asked to relinquish Northern Ireland and go instead to Health. This one revelation has cost Mo whatever sympathy she once had in the PLP, most of whom would sell their agents to be frozen out in this way. All the same, this information is deemed to be "damaging" to the government. Why? Did they think that politics was a chapter of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm? Is it widely believed that politicians get up each morning saying: "Hello Sun, hello flowers, hello Denis MacShane"?

So, as I read, I feel my blood pressure rising, and my face colouring. Why, I ask again, am I doing this? What do people want from us? I could be - at this very moment - contemplating the nature of existence in the cool calm of a church, instead of which I find myself shouting at a newspaper. I think I am having a crisis.

Monday I'm having a crisis? As I drive back from Fort Knox, there are strange tailbacks and bottlenecks on the way. These turn out to be queues of car drivers who are panic-buying petrol. In Shepherd's Bush, I watch one driver almost knock down an Asian garage owner who is trying to stop cars entering from the forecourt exit. What is it with people in cars?

But I am now, for the first time, fearful.

When people get like this (as they did over paedophiles in Portsmouth), who knows what will happen? The thing about the people, when all's said and done, is that politicians can't trust them. They never listen to arguments properly, and they don't join things up (taxes = hospitals; fuel taxes = less consumption = better environment). And if any beguiling voice says: "Look old chap, you're being hard done by, when you really can have it all", then they're off. Depressing isn't in it.

Tuesday Worse than I thought. There's a full-scale fuel insurrection. My phone's ringing non-stop with constituents who can't get about, or who are suffering. And why's this happening? Because of the fucking farmers and the shitting hauliers. Where were the lorry-drivers during the miners' strike? Driving their bloody trucks through picket-lines at 40mph and moaning on about the country being held to ransom, that's where. And the farmers? Half a century of subsidy, culminating in attempt to murder us all with BSE, and now they're feeling the pinch, so it's time for our schools and hospitals to close. And as for the police, words fail me. Ten bloody pickets and the refinery closes? I mean, I am not saying that - in retrospect - we should have been able to close that factory at Grunwick (though it was exciting at the time), but 10,000 of us couldn't manage it.

I mean, you imagine taking your Ford Siesta, or whatever, and parking across the garage exit of your local plod station and then telling them that it's a protest. You'd be sitting in a cell with a night-stick up your rear end before you could say "Arthur Scargill".

But I'm also scared. One of the reasons why we chose The Master, rather than Mr Brown, was because he could read Middle Britain. What if he's read 'em wrong? Still, we used to get a lot of cars hooting in support of various miners' demos, and look where that got us. Perhaps we should adopt the same tactics as Maggie did, "the enemy within" now composed of greedy trucksters and ungrateful farmers? You can't fight wars with reasonable words; you need to wield a big stick. Or might that be counter-productive?

Sod Runt's book. This is real politics.

This article first appeared in the 18 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Let the poor seek a place in the sun

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.