The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Sunday The papers are full of polls and prognostications. Which is timely, because - tho it is the Sabbath, and some of us (albeit quite recently) are actually Christians - there is a secret meeting of the Elections Strategy Group, to which I am attached as a seasoned ex-Lubianka and Cabinet Office bod. M is in Ulster putting down yet another revolt, Mr Brown has donned the kilt and is tending to his Caledonian flock, so the occasion has a distinctly Second XV flavour. Still, there is work to be done, and here are I, Loveday Flessh, ads wunderkind Trevor Beattie (whose hair and accent lend us all a degree of street cred), Lolita and Philip Gould. Gould, unhappily, has been in America again. Oh God, and Clive Soley is here. I forgot about him - but then, that's easily done. Nice bloke and all that, but people have been known to come into an apparently empty room and to sit down, only to discover that they're sitting on Clive.

Philip, it turns out, has been thinking hard about the problems of our core vote and turnout.

"You see," he explains, agitatedly, "it's all a catastrophe, really. We may be 21 points ahead (though I expect, when we adjust for differential turnout and liars, that our lead will be down to single figures), but we are very vulnerable. Very vulnerable." He blinks rapidly, ten times in succession, and runs his fingers through his hair, till it stands out at 90 degrees to his head, making him look like Struwwelpeter.

He goes on. "The thing is, that we've got the wrong core. Our core hates the euro, loathes foreigners, loves handouts and is about as entrepreneurial as a Smolensk collective farm. It wants hanging and flogging and no poofs in the army. Not only that, but it doesn't even give us credit for all the wonderful things that we're continually about to do for it. And it doesn't like voting. So, we've got to evolve a strategy to appeal to the gut instincts of this group, or we could face massive abstentions in May. Am I saying we could lose? Yes, I am!" His hair frames his head, and makes him look completely mad.

"'Scuse me, Phil," says Trevor, "but aren't you missin' summink here?" Beattie pauses and then goes on. "Strikes me that old Hague has got the same problem. Except in reverse. His core - all those suburbanites in Solihull - they don't buy all this Little England guff any more. They're educated, they're open-minded, they know things take time, they smoked dope when they were 16. And they aren't impressed by all this Widdecombe bollocks about family and country. So, we have two choices, it seems to me. The first is to watch both cores abstain, because neither's party is - as far as they are concerned - up to snuff. Then we can hope, like that First World War general said, that we win by ten votes to nine.

"Or, and this is my suggestion, we just swap cores. Let them have ours, and we'll take theirs. Theirs vote more, and there are a lot more of them. That way we can give up tryin' to persuade this recalcitrant lot of inner-city whingers and no-hopers into the polling booths, and concentrate on the vast suburbs. Whaddya say?"

I say that it sounds brilliant to me. I mean, it doesn't require us to give up on poverty and all that. Far from it. But it does release us from worrying all the time about people who - to be honest - have become more and more uncomfortable to appeal to. I mean, look at the Witchfinder General. It's high time to try the Beattie strategy.

Tuesday Oh my God. The summons. In early, thinking Treasury thoughts, and a call comes from No 10. Can I see The Master next week?

Is this it? I'd stop a speeding tomato for that man.

I certainly would.

This article first appeared in the 22 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: the great cover-up