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

Monday No one has twigged. Boss Hilary thinks that Marsden is a mad fantasist, but can't admit that - on the day in question - she had slipped of to Harvey Nicks to restock her pants drawer. Marsden, of course, has been on radio, TV and in the press, flourishing his wounds as those Yugoslavian girls used to show the signs of the stigmata. I have felt tempted once or twice to tell the terrible truth, that it was I, in drag, who called him a whingeing little appeaser with a dick the size of a toothpick (I see that didn't get into his bloody transcript), but no one would believe me.

Tuesday The Master is on a fleeting visit to Britain, where he will probably try meeting with the local prime minister and signing him up to the coalition against terrorism, if no one reminds him that he is Prime Minister here. It's a bit like Richard the Lionheart at the moment. Dashing king spends most of his time fighting wars abroad (who mentioned the word "crusade"? Not me), and is much loved while everything falls apart. And who is Prince John? Not Mr Brown, who has adopted his usual wartime stance of disappearing altogether. My money's on Blind Lemon Blunkett.

(Later) He's coming here! The news has just arrived that The Master is set to visit the whips' office. The message goes out to all our junior whips to come and kiss the hem. We convene them all, amid some excitement, in Boss Hilary's office (where I experience a guilty frisson).

At midday precisely The Master himself appears at the door, accompanied by Boss Hilary. He is wearing his "don't fuck with me" blue tie, and is immaculate. Ali is with him, eyes darting round the room, mouth turned down in an expression of ineffable grimness, taking in the assembled company.

Somehow, as though taking a cue from the zeitgeist, we seem to have formed two lines - seniors in front and juniors behind. And Boss Hilary now begins to walk The Master down the line with Ali following. They come to me. Usually, when we meet, The Master shakes my hand, says, "Hello Linford, good to meet you" and that's that. But this time no hand is extended, there is no wide smile, and I get the terrible feeling that he is waiting for something else. But what? As though moved by some invisible force, my right hand snaps to the side of my head in what my subconscious must believe is a proper salute. I am horrified.

"As you were," says The Master, without a trace of irony. "I just wanted to say you're doing a great job." And he passes on. Ali is right behind him. He stops in front of me, reaches forward and gently, unbelievably, begins to adjust my tie. "Too many airport stops," he whispers. "He's got statesman syndrome. It happens, apparently. Nice of you to humour him."

After ten minutes The Master departs for some unknown destination (and therefore probably Arab country) but Ali remains behind to address us.

"Now look," he says, "you know and I know that those Labour MPs who are opposed to this war are a band of snivelling quislings who ought to be shot. But, for tactical reasons, we mustn't say so. This Marsden business . . ." Is he looking at me? ". . . has caused damage. We mustn't be seen to coerce the soldiery. So we want you to be a troupe of Miss Congenialities, listening, sympathising, noting grievances, nodding gravely. You quite understand where they're coming from, you often feel the same way yourselves, you can assure them that we're deeply sensitive to their concerns, of course they must express dissent if that's what they feel, though it would be nice if we could all row together. All that shit. When all this is over we can string them up at our leisure. Understood?"

The room is full of the sound of clicking heels.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The rise and rise of President Blair