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

Thursday The twins want to know about the Granny Lumpkin affair. Old Mrs Lumpkin is the 103-year-old former Ziegfeld girl whose treatment at the hands of West Warrington Hospital has been causing a storm all week. Her daughter, Vera Lumpkin, no spring chicken at 75, came to visit Granny a week after she had been admitted to West Warrington with ulcerated legs.

She says that her mother had been made to sit in the corner of a male ward for six days and was fed a bowl of porridge and a mango-flavoured Bacardi Breezer that had been smuggled into the hospital by one of the male patients. When Vera tells this story to the Warrington Gazette, complete with snaps taken by her fashion-journalist daughter, the balloon goes up. The Wing Commander raises it at PMQs, and we are forced to run with the hospital's denials. Which is that Granny Lumpkin took up residence in the men's ward, and resolutely refused to leave, repeating only, when asked: "Make mine a Bacardi Breezer."

What the twins are asking, because their religious studies teacher has raised it as an "issue project" for them, is whose side we are on in this kind of dispute: the producers or the consumers? I tell them that there is no contradiction: the patients will be best served by happy, motivated staff, and you won't get those by moaning at them and depressing their morale. And just in case they should think to ask, I inform them, no this doesn't apply to RMT members on the railways, because they're just being awkward. And anyway, they aren't really like nurses and teachers, who are officially good.

Tuesday Exit Granny Lumpkin, leaving blood all over the floor and a feeling that it doesn't matter what we do because the press will always be on the look-out for Lumpkins. And will always find them. Why does no one seek Mme Lumpkins over in Jospinland?

As I say, exit Granny, enter Enron-ron-ron, Enron-ron. Suddenly we have every journalist in the western world combing cuttings and contacts for any headline that will link The Master to shady doings. In any way.

I have lunch with Starbuck, whose networking makes him an expert on these things.

"Why do they do it?" I ask, in exasperation. "Are they really saying that we would alter our entire energy policy for the sake of £38,000 measly quid? I mean, according to that logic, it would presumably take only £40,000 from the other side to change the policy back again. I tell you, this sort of stuff is hugely damaging."

Starbuck puts down his fork, raises his gaze from his Fusion platter, and speaks in a soft voice.

"Lynton, your trouble is that you not only want to win, but you want them to love you, too. You want them to think that you're a straight kind of guy, because you are, and you just wish that all this spin and stuff was unnecessary. Oh, for pure politics, and perhaps there'd be no need for poor old Starbuck and his ilk."

He smiles that toothy smile.

"But that's not possible. Not in this vale of tears. You want the press to be fair. It isn't. It wasn't fair to John Major, either. We made sure of that, when we could. And now it's our turn to be the shitheads who everyone is fed up with. But that doesn't mean we stop fighting, it just means we fight harder and better. You're worried that there'll be so much cynicism that no one will vote. Don't. Who cares? Just so long as a whole lot more vote for us than for them, then that's enough. Lord Haigh got that one right. One part of The Master hates to recognise this, and the other knows it all too well. Politics is a rough trade."

He pauses. "And I love it!"

And he seizes his implements and attacks the platter.

This article first appeared in Revealed: how Labour sees women

2002-02-04