Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Journal of Lynton Charles, Deputy Minister without Portfolio

Article excerpt

DEPUTY MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO

Monday "Ah, Lapland, come in, come in! Have you met Lady Bluestocking, our leader in the Lords?" Thus Dr Jack, his fabulously white teeth flashing through his unseasonable tan (an effect M once described as being like "pearls in a cow pat"), introduces me to the formidable Baroness Blackjay. The baroness is an immaculate woman of about 50 who shakes my hand with a grip so fierce that my eyes water, and then eyes me from top to toe in an intimidating way.

"He's rather puny, isn't he, Jack?" she tells my boss. "I'm not sure how he'll go down with my dodderers. Are you really sure that you can't help out?"

"Alas, Megs," the bronzed Cunningham replies, "I am due to take a series of onerous foreign trips, starting with a visit to New Zealand to check out the fall-out on PR, and culminating in a fact-finding mission to the Micronesian mini-states. But Lutyens here is tougher than he looks. M swears by him. Why don't you brief him on the task in hand, and see what he can do? Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with The Master. Farewell Megs, good luck Leotard." Grinning, he suaves out, and shuts the door behind him.

"Well, Mr Charles," says the baroness in a cut-glass accent that reminds me of the young Eleanor Bron, "shall we begin?" And when I nod, she embarks on the story of the government's plans to reform the House of Lords, and the worrying opposition to these plans that has suddenly sprung up in the ermined Labour ranks. She only pauses once, to observe that the room has become rather smelly and to ask me (unnecessarily, I think) whether I've blown off.

Naturally I lie, and tell her that the drains in this part of Whitehall are rather ancient. And I can't help thinking that you never read much about farting and suchlike in Ted Heath's, Dick Crossman's or even Tony Benn's diaries. …

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