The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Sunday It's late, and the phone rings in the study. M is on the line. His voice has that hollow "I'm in the shit again" timbre. "Lynton," he says, "I'm in the shit again." And the full story comes tumbling out. It seems that, three years back, and not long after the Mother of All Election Triumphs, he is invited to some ethnic religious do by the Barracuda brothers, Lebanese twin businessmen who have just agreed to put a million into the Dome. Which M is very grateful for, as should the entire nation be.

Anyway, barely have they slipped a garland round his neck and a firebrand into one hand and a honey-cake into the other - M is a little vague on exactly which religion this is - than Juan Barracuda says to his brother that he is still wondering whether to submit another citizenship application, given the curt and unfriendly way in which the last one was treated by the Home Office. M picks up this cue and tells them that there is never a good reason for discourtesy, be the supplicant ne'er so poor or - as in the case of the Barracudas - so wealthy.

This government, he assures them, is more sympathetic than the Tories are to the plight of those wishing to migrate. Why doesn't he ring the Home Office and just find out how the matter would stand were Juan Barracuda to try again? He will not - they must understand - intercede himself. That would be an abuse of power, though if one of them were to put down roots in the rapidly improving north-eastern ex-port that he represents, then he could argue the toss for them until the cows came home. In fact, between them, they could practically purchase said ex-port. The Barracuda Sportsdome might not come amiss.

So he goes back to work and gives one of the Witchfinder General's inquisitors a ring. The conversation, according to M, runs as follows:

"Good morning, Michael."

"Good morning, M."

"I gather from Z that you're doing fabulously well. It's the talk of the Cabinet Office."

"Ta very much. Very much. Mmmm. Yes. Ta."

"Still, there won't be a reshuffle I dare say, for several months at least. But that's not why I'm calling. I just wondered whether you knew anything about the Barracuda brothers?"

"Yes, weren't they threatened with being indicted by the Lebanese government?"

"A trumped-up case, they say. They're thinking of applying for citizenship again. They contribute a great deal to the country, their argument goes, so they'd like to join it. I just thought I'd call and find out if they're wasting their time."

"Surely not. We approach each case strictly on its merits."

"That's what I told them, Michael. Many thanks for your time, and my very best wishes to darling Bunty."

"Do you think it looks dreadful, Lynton my love?" M now pleads on the phone, adding: "It really wasn't. I said nothing to support their application, and they'd already given us the money."

"M," I say coolly, savouring every word, "I'm afraid to say that you have been naive."

Monday "Hi!" says The Master. "Linford, it's great to see you. Seems like years."

That (I don't tell him) is because it has been years.

The guitar has gone, and he is wearing a white shirt, so at least we'll be spared the embarrassment of a sweat fountain.

"Tea? Soda water?" I accept a cup of tea. His first words surreally echo those of my headmaster at primary school. "Now, M and Mr Brown have both told me that you've had a good year. I'm delighted with your progress. And I just want to make sure that you're planning to stay on the team, and play your part after the election."

Am I.

This article first appeared in the 29 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The fall of Mandelson