The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Monday De Vere Grand Hotel, Brighton.

Why the "De Vere" Grand Hotel? What was wrong with the Grand Hotel? I know some of them are among our best friends these days, but these business people can be their own worst enemies. What next? A bit of sponsorship money and help with the spire and we'll get the Trust House Canterbury Cathedral? Makes you sympathise with the anti-capitalist protesters. A bit, anyway. Vulgarity - that always was capitalism's problem. The alternatives may be much worse, but at least they appeal to something other than one's desire for a T-shirt or a hamburger. I think Norman Mailer's right: the next big revolution will be a spiritual one. But where does that leave me? I have a void, and it yearns to be filled.

Later Sitting on the conference platform listening to Mr Brown's speech with the exaggerated and delighted attention of one who has the television cameras on him, which the BBC director may cut to at any time. Yawning is a capital crime. Picking your nose abstractedly or scratching your balls would be suicidal. So you listen. It's all about listening. Whenever a political party fucks up, it has to start telling everyone that it's listening. The Welshman spent several years after 1983 listening. I don't think he ever stopped, not even when he was talking. Which was most of the time, bless his heart. The Egg has been round the whole country listening. It's a great word. It means: "We've been doing the right things, but the bloody stupid electorate and the evil tabloids don't see it that way, so we're trimming like crazy - let's hope to hell that it works, or we're buggered."

There are gradations of listening. Mr Brown's version is: "I'm listening, now say something worth hearing, because I haven't much time before the next world-debt reduction conference." The Master's version is likely to be much more: "I feel your pain, of course I do. And I'm going to do my very best to help you out because I know that - despite the fact that you're quite well off, and your private pension is good, and you drive a two-litre petrol guzzler - you still have needs and desires."

Later I take part in a fringe debate for the Young Fabians, entitled "Is New Labour Old?". My opponent is Ron Kilblair, the self-promoted voice of "core" Labour supporters. To get there, I run the gauntlet of a dozen or so farmers and radical environmentalists, who shout nasty things. Both groups hate us for exactly opposite reasons. So why don't they shout at each other? Why must we be the conduit for every bloody grievance and argument? But no, they exhibit camaraderie as they yell at us. It must have been a bit like this in the Weimar Republic.

Later still Not exactly sober. Not sober at all. Guardian party. Independent party. Smile, smile. Stumble outside into the rain. Wet. No umbrella. What hotel am I in? In the hotel I've just come out of. Go back in. Drinks with Charles Clarke. Denis MacShane is there. We fall into one another's arms and say we love each other, always been great admirers, silly misunderstandings, real enemies are the voters.

Go to gents. Feel guilty and try to find a voter. The woman at reception looks like a voter. "Excuse me," I tell her, "can I just say that I'm listening?" She says nothing. "OK," I tell her, trying a different tack, "can I also say sorry? I'm really sorry about the Dome, OK? Mistake. Good intentions, but a mistake. And pensions. Bad presentation. I'm sorry and I'm listening." She looks at me warily. "Now," I ask, "tell me what it'd take to bring you back into the Labour fold. What do you want me to do?"

She leans forward. "You could start by doing your flies up," she replies. I do them up.

"There!" I exclaim triumphantly. "I was listening!" Rest is a blur.

This article first appeared in the 02 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Nightmare on Downing Street