The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Monday There are some jobs that nobody ought to want - finance minister for Chad, director of education for Hackney, personal assistant to Ann Widdecombe, that kind of thing. Yet there never seems to be a lack of people wanting to do them. So right now, there's not one, but three blokes desperate for the title of chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Why? Who would want to be the liaison point between MPs and the government? You hear every whinge going, and yet are completely powerless to do anything about them, even if you wanted to (which - if you've half a brain - you probably don't).

I mean, everyone knows better than you. Go to Mr Brown and say, "MPs think you should give shitloads of cash to pensioners", and he'll tell you that he's an MP too and that he doesn't think any such thing, and none of his MP friends think any such thing, and he has only received one constituent's letter on the subject, and that was from a man in an institution for the criminally insane. And besides (Mr Brown will continue), if the chairman of the PLP was doing his job properly, he would be convincing MPs of the total correctness of the government's case concerning the economy over the long term. Which was put together after a strategic planning period spanning half a decade in opposition and three years in government.

Back you go to Alf Bumm, loyal member for Gasworks North, carrying Mr Brown's message. Alf's problem is that, although he has an IQ only slightly higher than the contents of the canal that runs unfragrantly through his constituency, he fundamentally believes that - were merit the real criterion - he would himself now be in the government. That he isn't is a sign of the regrettable lack of insight into the mood of the heartlands shown by the government. A government that, according to Alf, is too Islingtonocentric.

Fail with Mr Brown and - in Alf's eyes - it's partly your fault. Fail to get Alf's support, and Mr Brown has you down in his Nasty Book as a waste of space.

So who would want a job like that? Well, the bowed-down incumbent Clive Soley, A Clarke (disappointed former minister) and the champion of the back benches, the man who always speaks his mind (and is therefore completely unreliable and self-centred), Alan O'Connor, that's who. And, at M's insistence, we ministers are now ordered to get discreetly into the tearooms and canvass sotto voce for poor old Clive.

This afternoon, ever obedient, off I go. And am doing sterling work among a gaggle of Midlanders, none of whom are ex-ministers (which makes the task much easier) when we are joined - uninvited - by Dede Monk. Dede is the MP for Blasted Heath Central. A large woman of West Indian origin, Dede speaks in a soft, almost childish voice, as though perpetually reasoning with a five-year-old. I have never, ever heard her say one positive word about the government. In fact, one realises that Dede would far rather the Tories were in power.

"Lynton," she coos, "how lovely and how unexpected to see you here, among the masses. And you must be soooo busy! Now let me guess! You're not here, are you, to listen to our minor problems? Matters of state must have despatched you hence. Perhaps you'd like us to vote for Clive Soley? Am I getting warm? Oh, but how disappointing for you! You see, we rather feel it's time for a change. Tough luck!"

I am unwise enough to lose my temper. And to tell Dede that her connection with Labour is so tenuous that I thought she'd joined another party. She smiles, glutinously. "Oh dear! Lynton, you just went on to my shit-list. Ask yourself, who gets on radio and TV more - you or me? Not only can I do you some serious damage, but I most certainly will. Toodle-oo."


This article first appeared in the 27 November 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of stealthy wealth