Paul Routledge

As he wallowed like a manatee in the coral reefs of the Indian Ocean, fighting attempts by BBC reporters to wrench off his breathing-mask, John Prescott might have wondered how his globetrotting plays back home.

The sniggers emanating from Downing Street were probably inaudible at the depths where he was diving, but they could clearly be heard at Westminster. The Blairistas are never happier than when the peripatetic Deputy Prime Minister is on his travels. That way, he can't rock the boat at home.

And the former seafarer does love to get about. Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro (more often than Peter Mandelson, which is saying something) and now Bombay and the Maldives. Nowhere is sufficiently far-flung to escape his ministrations.

At least he can stand the pace. A former member of the Labour Treasury team during the eighties confides an anxiety that Tony Blair might not have the staying power to last the course of The Project. In the hard-fought Finance Bill battles, he was "knackered by ten in the evening", apparently. This outrageous slur on the stamina of the great helmsman I find only too easy to believe. Commons physiognomists claim to detect a weariness in the PM, evident in his drawn features.

If Joe Ashton, the veteran Labour MP who visited a Thai massage parlour in Northampton (not that he paid for, or took part in sexual activities, of course), comes under pressure to resign, he may remember the advice he gave Tony Benn in May 1975. Benn, then Ashton's boss at the Department of Energy, was contemplating resignation from the cabinet during the European referendum. "Don't be a damned fool," advised Ashton. "You must fight. You mustn't give up." Benn was considerably perked up by this fighting talk. That didn't stop him sacking Ashton a year later.

The things you hear in the unisex hairdresser at the Commons. A Tory MP with his head under the tap observed brightly to the startled young lady doing his hair that "baldness is next to brains". I presume Gerald Howarth, the hard-right member for Aldershot (for it is he) was trying to prove his loyalty to his leader, the Great Dome of Westminster. Ugh! Come back Sir Julian Critchley, Howarth's predecessor, all is forgiven.

In the broad sweep of the Committee Room Corridor, where you could stage a bowling-match and still leave room for passers-by, who is this hurrying breathlessly to the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party? It's Harriet Harman, paying a cameo visit. I asked if she had come to collect "the boy". She looked nonplussed until I told her that her husband, Jack Dromey, was giving evidence next door to the Select Committee on Defence.

Enter Julian "Batty" Brazier, the Tory MP who was demobbed from the TA with the rank of captain and is well-known for his hostility to the woman's right to choose. "Your husband was just brilliant in committee," he gushed. "I don't know how to take that, especially in public," whimpered Hatty, before diving off. It must be a pain, being plain Mrs Dromey once again.

And so to the recording of a pilot programme for the BBC entitled Parliamentary Questions. This political quiz will start broadcasting in the autumn, if radio bosses like what they hear. I was on a team with Roy Hattersley. He knew most of the answers but, like me, is not very good on the buzzer.

The opposition team, the Tory MP Sir Patrick Cormack and Michael Gove of the Times, were better on the technology and emerged clear winners. Gove, a teenage egghead who wrote a Bible-length biog of the prophet Portillo, is tipped to become editor of the Times, which should exclude him from future parlour games. Sir Patrick, long pilloried as the Malvolio of Westminster, turned out to be charm itself and a serious expert on parliamentary history. Maybe I will stick to scribbling.

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

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