The Journal of Lynton Charles, Chancellor of the Duchy of Durham

Thursday And here, at last, it is! That moment at which one goes from being a continual aspirer to high office (the better to serve the poor, the weak, the lame, the halt - whatever they are) to actually being the bearer of high office. It is a solemn responsibility. The Rt Hon Lynton Charles MP! Member of the Privy Council! I think of all those illustrious and successful forebears: Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Aneurin Bevan, Roy Hattersley . . .

I am taken to the Palace (the Palace!) by limo, ushered by countless flunkeys through endless halls, do a curtsy, kiss the hand of Brenda and am out again before you can say Geoffrey Robinson. An hour later, I stand in the antechamber to the Cabinet Room with my exalted colleagues, waiting to enter my first cabinet meeting. I have a sense of simultaneous normality (what could be more natural than a group of people going into a room, sitting down and discussing how to run a country? How did I think it was done?) and unreality. Who am I, after all? Who is this Lynton Charles who believes he can add something valuable to the governance of a great nation? When will he be found out? When (not to put too fine a point on it) will he fuck up big time?

There is a great deal of satisfaction around me. Biggles Clarke is frowning and talking seriously in that high voice of his, but something in his eyes says: "Whoopee!" The Witchfinder-General is here, having no foreigners to terrorise today. It can't be long before he's tearing down Israeli settlements with his bare hands, while locking up members of Hamas. Blind Lemon is sitting smiling, dog at his heels, planning crackdowns on miscreants of various kinds. I stand with Boss Hilary as we both accept the congratulations of long-standing cabinet ministers.

When Mr Brown arrives, scowling, we all go in. As we sit, The Master appears, in his shirtsleeves as usual, and does his "Hi, good to see you!" thing to all of us. A civil servant shows me, disappointingly, to a seat on the periphery, rather than by the great table. But still . . .

"Right!" says The Master, and it starts. Like all meetings that have a long history and involve people who have known each other for ages, this one is incomprehensible to the first-timer. We move from item to item with The Master calling the heading: "Health reform" or "Kyoto progress". The minister involved says something cryptic. Mr Brown, frowning deeply, grunts something broadly confirmatory or negative, and then we move on. After an hour and 15 minutes of this,we finish. As we collect our papers, The Master turns to Boss Hilary and me. "Any problems?" he asks.

"Yes," I nearly say, "I haven't understood a bloody word." But: "No," we tell him.

Monday Boss Hilary and I are going to get along, I think. If there is a measure of doubt in my mind, it is because I can rarely make out what she says. She starts OK. In fact, she starts with a hockey-mistress shout. But, after half a sentence, she begins to slow down and speak more quietly. Within a paragraph, you can see the lips move, but you can't hear a thing.

So we sit in our office (which, according to the press, we are soon going to have to vacate to make way for a greater number of The Masters' Voices - thus transient is earthly joy), and discuss strategy. "LYNTON," Boss Hilary booms, the noise shaking her pageboy bob, "WE NEED TO ADOPT COMPLEMENTARY but differing roles, one us brrrbbb mmmm nnnnn . . . "

"I beg your pardon?"

"ONE OF US SHOULD BE BAD COP and the other shmmmm sssss blblbld . . . "

I am not being bad cop. It's not in my nature. I want to be good cop. Please let me be good cop.

"Shall I be good cop?" I ask. "NO." I heard that.

This article first appeared in Best of young British

2001-07-02