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

Monday I'm in the House for Enforcer's questions - a five-minute stint in which Dr Jack fends off various assaults from Tory bongo-brains, some of whom are barely able to read their Central Office briefings before asking supplementaries. In three months I haven't spoken, but have just sat knee to knee with Dr Jack (so that I fit into the TV picture) hear-hearing at the appropriate moments, and groaning theatrically when one of their loonier members goes over the top.

Today I cannot help noticing that my opposite number, the barely sane MP for New Forest, Dr Julian Swyne, is more than usually happy. Swyne is given to a mad radiance at the best of times; the more asinine his intervention, and the more embarrassed his colleagues are by it, the more successful he thinks he's been. But at this moment I don't think I've ever seen him so happy: laughing, barracking, shaking his grey bouffant hair at us, catcalling, waving his order paper and talking loudly to those behind him.

When, a few moments later, we go out into the lobby I stop that nice Tory Europhile, Ian Taylor, and ask him what's going on. Is Swyne on something? Taylor shakes his head sadly, regards me with tired, defeated eyes, and beckons me over to a bench. When he speaks it is with the voice of Eeyore.

"You probably haven't noticed, Lynton (and why indeed should you, busy man as you are?) that there has been a little debate going on in my party this week. We may have fewer MPs than at any time in our history, but this does not make the few that are left unambitious. Far from it. It is still far better to be opposition spokesman on foreign affairs than it is to be, say, plain Swyne, shadow deputy enforcer. The local association, what's left of it, are more respectful; the editor of the Daily Telegraph invites you to lunch; you get to make a speech to the convocation of blue rinses and hearing aids that is Conservative Party conference. …

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