Paul Routledge

New Labour's successes in Scotland and Wales mask a growing panic among MPs in marginal seats. Next month, we have the first European elections to be held on the "regional list" system whereby votes for, say, the whole of London are totted up and candidates get seats according to the overall performance of their parties. But the votes will still be counted initially in the Westminster parliamentary constituencies.

Some MPs with small majorities protested at a private meeting with party officials that the count will expose the fragility of their hold on their seats. It could show that they would lose in a general election. Worse, disclosure of how badly they are performing might trigger off a Labour "chicken run" modelled on the Tory flight from risky seats before the 1997 poll.

Some nervous backbenchers argued for suppression of the uncomfortable statistics, which would be the correct new Labour thing to do. But Ken Livingstone argued: "It's better that we know the truth." It's all very well for him, sitting on a comfortable majority with his Cuban suntan. Less fun if you are Stephen Twigg.

When I mentioned on BBC World Service radio that the disgraced former trade secretary had taken his Brazilian boyfriend to Chequers (apparently at Cherie's invitation), the presenter, Jackie Ashley (a fellow NS columnist), looked distinctly alarmed. Is the Beeb's ban on mentioning Peter Mandelson's sexuality still operational? If so, why?

Perhaps we should call him William of Orange. When he was a lodger in the Kennington home of two Tory MPs, the 1922 Committee grandee Sir Donald Thompson and John (now Lord) Cope, the Tory leader lived on oranges. Young Billy always had a bag by his side.

While an embattled Hague mulls over his shadow cabinet sackings, he should beware the outre nature of his deputy's ambition. Peter Lilley keeps a life-size portrait of General de Gaulle in his Westminster office. Clearly, he awaits the summons from Colombey-les- deux-Eglises.

So Fiona Jones is back at Westminster, averting an embarrassing by-election in her Newark constituency and saving my expensive bet about its result with Frazer Kemp, Labour's chief fixer. She delivered an elegant 39-word oration on government proposals to develop brown-field sites for housing.

One ungallant Labour backbencher observed that she had made only two speeches since polling day - the first, her maiden (the 282nd, and last, from the new entrants), and the second to plead "not guilty" to the charge of election expenses malpractice. Perhaps she will do better now the Court of Appeal has cleared her. But why does she list "member of MI5" in her affiliations in Blake's Parliamentary Yearbook?

A shocking encounter in Stranger's Bar. I bumped into the posturing, self-important Nato spokesman Jamie Shea, sporting on his lapel a five-pointed red star that would gladden the heart of Slobodan Milosevic.

Thankfully, it turns out to be look-and-soundalike Martin Salter, the Labour MP for Reading West. And the badge is an advert for a multiple sclerosis charity.

On the road for the devolution polls in Wales, I found Ron Davies claiming to have invented new Labour 30 years ago. He says he has no bitterness or angst about his downfall as Welsh secretary. Which is just as well, since he was the author of it. He now believes that "the coming of the Welsh Assembly will mean we are free of collective UK cabinet responsibility". Try telling Downing Street.

And shameless, or what? Charlie Whelan, on the SNP's call-up of Sean Connery, said: " When a political party uses celebs in a serious attempt to win votes, you know they are in big trouble." Can this be the same Charlie who inveigled 007 to join his old boss, Gordon Brown, on a boat in the Firth of Forth to beg for votes in the Scottish referendum?

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"