Paul Routledge

It's too hot to sit for long on the Commons terrace, exposed to the vulgar gaze of the tourists on their river cruises. Gerry, now Lord, Fitt, the Belfast awkward boy, once pointed to his large gin and tonic and teased them: "It's free, y'know!" Not true - it's only half-price, or thereabouts. In the absence of politics, MPs drift inside and talk of little but the forthcoming cabinet reshuffle.

Mo Mowlam's departure from Northern Ireland has been discussed so often - not least by herself, in semi-private, before she moves on swiftly to her favourite topic of what's wrong with the Labour Party - that it seems certain to come to pass. The unionist behemoth demands a blood sacrifice.

It may live to regret its hostility. Some sources say that Ulster could well get Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister and former chief whip. He's made good friends with the farmers of the province and wouldn't be cowed by David Trimble (who, by the way, expects to survive a leadership contest in the autumn). Alternatively Paul Murphy, the respected (if not particularly inspiring) minister for political affairs in the Northern Ireland Office, could be pushed up to number one. Amazingly there is still talk of Junket Jack Cunningham going over to Belfast should the peace process collapse.

Tony Blair continues to pressure his senior colleagues into agreeing that Peter Mandelson should return to the fold. He talks endlessly about "having things as they were" in the good old days before the disgraced former trade secretary had to quit - as though government is akin to Enid Blyton's Famous Five, a construct that won't work without the loyal dog.

Naturally this prospect cannot go by without a wager, so I bet a man in the know a day's pay (this time, more wisely, at the national minimum wage rate) that Peter will not be a fully paid-up member of the cabinet after the reshuffle.

This bet is based on political reality, not Mandy's evidence to the Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, in which he said (apropos of my "highly unpleasant book" about him): "He [Routledge] is extremely hostile to me personally. I should think that his hatred of me is only exceeded by his hatred of the Prime Minister, and that is only exceeded by his hatred of the whole concept of new Labour."

Alas, poor Peter. Wapping cured me of hatred. I don't hate even Rupert Murdoch. I leave that stuff to the MilIbank militants. Though I was, naturally, fascinated to see that Mandy has had more foreign freebies since he resigned from the cabinet than any other MP in the whole of last year. He still has a long way to go before beating his mentor Tony, who called off Rio de Janeiro to sort out Ulster but insisted on going to Warsaw at the weekend.

A fine head-and-shoulders portrait of Baroness Thatcher, "enthusiastically received" by the sitter and signed by her, is going on sale at Sotheby's on 14 July, reserve price £15-25,000. "She might buy it herself," says the auctioneer coyly. She might, indeed. A full-length portrait of the Iron Lady is still in the artist's studio, unsold. Maggie's oil painting is one of hundreds of lots in the political sale. I might go for Enoch Powell's bulldog walking stick (£350-500) or a death mask of Stalin (£1,000-1,500).

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

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