Paul Routledge

William Hague is thinking about who to sack. Tory insiders say he will reshuffle his shadow cabinet after the May elections if results are "good" (in other words, anything better than a total disaster), or in June, after the European elections. Tories disagree about who should be top of his firing-list. But Gillian Shephard, shadow leader of the House, who is said to have shown a world-weary reluctance to get out of bed and appear on the electronic media, figures strongly.

Close behind her is Sir Norman Fowler, who will be given more time to spend with his money. Michael Howard is going anyway and, in an ideal world, would be replaced by the circumferential, front-ranking Michael Ancram. However, he cannot be spared from the party chairmanship at this difficult time. Ann Widdecombe will stay where she is, biting Frank Dobson's ankles, though she (along with Michael Portillo: see Anne McElvoy in the NS, 19 April) has been touted as a replacement chairman. Hague's people are also asking whether William has the nerve to sack the shadow trade secretary John Redwood, his rival for the leadership, who alternates between periods of hyperactivity and total silence. And will he snuff out the career of John Maples, who has failed to dent the insolent self-esteem of the former GMB whisky officer, George Robertson?

Expect promotion for Liam Fox, the articulate Scot who has made a good showing as constitutional affairs spokesman, and Sir Archie Hamilton, lofty chairman of the 1922 Committee. One idea being tossed around in Smith Square is a beefed-up Ministry for the Constitution, which would absorb not only Scottish and Welsh devolution matters, but Northern Ireland as well. This would be an ideal solution to the Andrew MacKay question. He is a walking disaster on Ulster - when he's actually there - and could be safely packed off to, say, Trade to harass "Steve" Byers.

It is not often that I get a grovelling apology from a Tory frontbencher, so I am happy to record that Philip Hammond, the junior health spokesman, rang to say "sorry" for accusing me of going on a dirty weekend in BeIgrade with Alice Mahon, Labour MP for Halifax and stalwart of the Committee for Peace in the Balkans. He made this startling allegation in Prime Minister's Questions on 21 April, apparently acting on a tip-off from the Conservative whips. As I was with my 85-year-old mum in Sussex on Alice's first day in YugoslavIa, and live on Talk Radio on the second day, this canard was easily refuted. Inquiries reveal that Hammond, MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, was a bit of a merkin at university, growing his hair halfway down his back and generally predicting a great future for himself. If so, he will have to do better than this.

Seen at the Channel 4 party for the launch of Donald Macintyre's hagiography of Peter Mandelson, none other than Derek Draper, newly returned from Morocco. He threatens to bring the cause of his latest downfall, Claudia the jacuzzi joyride, over from Amsterdam for celeb interviews. This I must see. Meanwhile, I am told that Mandy is "depressed". I cannot believe it, not after the praise lavished on him by Donald.

Nick Brown has been explaining to Labour MPs how he came to be Agriculture Secretary. Tony Blair summoned him to No 10 to oust him from the post of chief whip, and offer him the new job. "But Tony, I was thinking of becoming a vegan," said Brown.

"You're not?" was the incredulous reply. Then, correcting himself from the interlocutory to the instructive tone, Blair repeated himself: "You're not!" The new Labour version, I suppose, of making your children eat burgers for the cameras.

Poor Tony. He was "too tired" to live up to his promise to attend a celebration of Sunderland Football Club's First Division championship at Westminster on 26 April. He had to take to his bed after the exhausting Washington Nato summit, explained Downing Street. Some warlord!

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

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