Paul Routledge

Shortly before MPs went off for their 12-day break, a rumour swept Westminster that the Commons would be recalled during Easter week to debate Nato's intensifying war against Yugoslavia. The story prompted much dismay, but has proved to be false. Why would the government want to expose its widening of the bombing to undefended civilian targets - bridges over the Danube hundreds of miles from Kosovo, home-heating plants, the suburbs of Belgrade - to uncomfortable questioning?

New Labour's iron discipline has silenced criticism of the war - even from the parliamentary select committees whose job is to hold the executive to account. So the Defence Committee, chaired by Bruce George, and the Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Donald Anderson, either remain mute or compete with each other for gushing support for Britain's Balkan war.

Naturally, Tony Blair has got his priorities right. He has instructed that the heating for the swimming-pool at Chequers must be kept permanently on, and hang the expense. With her customary eye for the pennies, Margaret Thatcher rationed use of the pool, but then she wasn't much of a swimmer.

Spoonerism of the war so far: the "expert" on Radio 4's Broadcasting House who spoke of the Balkan campaign being waged "by Clare and Brinton". Whatever the faults of the International Development Secretary and the excitable member for Peterborough, these good ladies cannot be held entirely to blame.

And so to the dungeons of the Red Lion, Whitehall, for a party to celebrate the transition of Eben Black, political editor of the News of the World, to the Sunday Times. Black looked rather embarrassed when an NoW executive made a speech fingering his role in the unmasking of Robin Cook. There is a polite fiction at Westminster that lobby correspondents do not get mixed up in the seamy business of sex'n'sleaze.

However, I was much more engaged by a close-quarter contest between Fraser Kemp MP, Labour's Mr Fixit, and his Tory would-be rival, David Ruffley MP. Kemp is masterminding the Newark by-election on 6 May, which promises to be a cliffhanger. Foolishly, I bet Kemp a day's wages that the Conservatives will win. The alacrity with which he accepted was a bit disconcerting. If he thinks Labour can win, they just might.

Kemp cheered me up with a story from the Uxbridge by-election of May 1997, which new Labour threw away in a fit of post-election arrogance. He was prevailed upon to spend £7,500 on a focus group organised by Philip Gould to determine voter intentions. At the outset, two of the six participants were Labour voters. After Gould's presentation, one of them switched to the Tories. "I spent £1,250 on losing a supporter," he wailed. I do not think we will see much of Gould in Newark.

Footnote to the Ron Davies affair. The disgraced former Welsh secretary turned up on Good Friday's Any Questions in Colne, just over the border from my dacha. The BBC presenter Nick Clarke was very understanding about Ron's "moment of madness in south London", as if his cruising on Clapham Common was a parking error, and predicted that Davies will figure in a Labour Welsh cabinet. This is an instructive precedent on the part of the Corporation. As part of the BBC's rehabilitative role, we should now expect to see Peter Mandelson presenting a property programme, while the tourism minister, Janet Anderson ("and the women will get more sex under Labour"), sets the tone on The Moral Maze.

William Hague is clearly desperate. He is playing the Tyke card. The Tory leader has given the left-wing Labour MP Harold Best freedom to use his name in support of an All-Party Commons Group to back Yorkshire County Cricket Club. This, in a week when he visited Skipton on his 38th birthday and told schoolchildren he "felt more like 28". The kids thought he was "nice", which just goes to show the fallacy of the saw that out of the mouths of babes and children . . .

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