Paul Routledge

Why were Margaret McDonagh, the Labour Party general secretary, Ken Jackson, general secretary of the engineering union AUEW, and the party's chief fixer, Frazer Kemp MP, discreetly at table together in the members' dining room at Westminster four days after the elections in Scotland and Wales? They were discussing the unpardonable folly whereby new Labour adopted proportional representation and handed so many seats to the nationalists, thus gifting the balance of power to the Liberal Democrats. Kemp and Jackson (whose union is one of the party's principal paymasters) are dyed-in-the-wool first-past-the-posters, and McDonagh is believed to share their reservations. So does any sensible politician who is not in thrall to the project to merge Labour and the Lib Dems into a thousand-year coalition. Kemp and his allies are determined to make this the issue of the millennium, much to the dismay of the Prime Minister and his disgraced former trade secretary.

An amazingly tetchy Tony Blair gave the first prime ministerial press conference of his reign in the Rose Garden of No 10 on the day after the devolution elections. Yes, that's right. The first, on his own, in this country. He did a double act with Bomber Bill Clinton way back, several numbers in Ulster and a couple of stints at Millbank during the council campaign (as party leader). But nobody at Westminster can recalI him ever giving a proper, unscripted press conference in Britain since he became the people's president. His answers were peremptory and dismissive. The lobby correspondents - those who managed to find out it was happening, because the preparations were as competent as a USAF air strike - thought he looked strained and bad-tempered, and put it down to lack of sleep. Yet Blair goes to bed at 10.30pm and gets up around 6.30am, so he gets his full eight hours.

My abiding recollection of Derek Fatchett, the Foreign Office minister who died so tragically young, is by the roadside on a spring morning in 1984, when he was patiently trying to persuade an uppity young policeman not to arrest a striking miner from Selby for the crime of wanting to drive through Nottinghamshire. He failed, and spent the next six hours springing him from Mansfield nick without a charge. I salute his memory.

You read it here first that Gillian Shephard was top of the list to go from William Hague's shadow cabinet. In the event, she jumped the gun, claiming to have told the boy wonder a year ago that she was keen to quit. Then why stay so long? The same question applies to Michael Howard, who is supposed to be going but still keeps popping up on the Today programme.

Fresh intelligence of Michael Portillo. I hear he is finding life outside Westminster so interesting he is not willing to return, unless he is gifted a seat within London Transport travelcard zones one and two. He is certainly not interested in a figurehead Tory party chairmanship. Chances of a move to a safe Conservative berth in Devon were snuffed out by his lovely wife, who likes the bright lights of the capital.

Observers say that Peter Brooke's sudden new lease of political life is precipitated by a desire to ward off predatory moves by Portillo on his Westminster constituency. I shouldn't take too much notice if I were the Young Mane. Now the cricket season is upon us, we shan't see much of old Brookie.

In a European election during the eighties, when Brooke was party chairman, I taxed him with the Tories' apparent indifference to their fate in the polls. "You're just not trying," I teased him. He looked very hurt. "But I've given up cricket for the duration!" Yes. Three whole weeks.

On 19 April I referred to "a very close friendship" between Ann Widdecombe and a fellow Tory MP. The lady assures us that nothing improper occurred, and I accept that any suggestions of impropriety on Miss Widdecombe's part are wholly without foundation.

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"