The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Sunday I awake, sweating, from a dream in which I am on holiday in some beach paradise with Zero Anstiss. We are sitting on the veranda late one evening, sipping those drinks with leaves and umbrellas in them that M likes so much, and love is in the air.

All of a sudden it becomes clear that our villa is under attack. Angry voices and shots are heard. The leaders of the brigands/revolutionaries burst in upon our solitude, and reveal themselves to be none other than Oskar Lafontaine and General Pinochet. We attempt to flee through the jungle, but Lafontaine's mocking cry of "for you, English, the war is over" is never far away.

Just when it seems inevitable that we will be captured and tortured, a very English voice cries out "fire!" and we hear the crack of musketry and the curses of the thwarted Pinochet. A figure, swathed in ermine, carrying a rifle and followed by a troop of gamekeepers and beagles, strides into the clearing and regards us with amused charity. It is Viscount Cranborne. "Looks like I got to you in the nick of time!" he exclaims. "How are you, Charles? And who," he smiles aristocratically at Zero, "is this?" I am searching for an adequate reply when a particularly loud snore from Cheryl, who has been sleeping heavily since the Unison women's weekend, catapults me into wakefulness.

Tuesday I give the working group's progress report to the Witchfinder General. He is amazed by the Minnesota evidence, and the Think Again campaign. Starbuck, who accompanies me, launches into a homily about how this could become a major theme of the government's middle term. "It's not as though we are telling people what to do, Mr Straw, sir. We are simply saying, 'ignore the totty, think of the kids'. There'll be no legislation, no punishment . . ."

The Witchfinder General looks momentarily disappointed, ". . . no sentimonio, er, santimanty, um, sanctimoniousness from us. Simply good, decent advice, from a good, decent government!"

"And presumably Ron Davies and Robin Cook will appear in the TV ads?" says an acid voice from behind us. We look around to see that a bookcase in the corner of the room has slid aside, and that M is emerging from it, carrying a large torch. "Sorry, I was just looking for something, and I couldn't help overhearing you. This is, I agree, exciting stuff, but we will have to be very careful with it, otherwise some of us will never be able to go to Brazil again. You know how the press is about hypocrisy; they believe they should have a monopoly on it, and get very shirty when we politicians muscle in on the act.

"Might I suggest, WG, that you send old Lynton here to Minnesota to discover the antidote to adultery (he can look in on Bill while he's there) and, in the meantime, discover some way in which the impetus for this can be seen to come from someone else - the churches, the Liberal Democrats, Anita Roddick - and be responded to by us? Now, arrivederci, I've dropped my cape somewhere between the Treasury and the Foreign Office, and must retrieve it." The bookcase revolves, and he is gone.

The Witchfinder General sucks his breath in between his gravestone teeth.

"I do wish he wouldn't do that!" he exclaims, and then sighs. "Nevertheless, he's probably right, Lynton. Subject to agreement from Dr Jack, I think you and that sparky academic with the eyepatch should go west and find out what all this is about."

I agree, and step out of the Home Office with such a glad heart that when Simon begs to be allowed to accompany us to America, I say yes. A week with Zero, discussing how to defeat infidelity! My cup runneth over.

This article first appeared in the 11 December 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Plato rules, OK?