Pssst . . . heard this?

The Portillo affair will set MPs' tongues wagging even more, predicts Kevin Maguire

The vicar of St Albion need stray no further than his own Westminster parish as he fights the good fight to give Britain a new moral purpose. Parliament is a palace of fun with booze-fuelled MPs, away from their loved ones, finding comfort in the arms of others.

Tony Blair, in a sermon to his congregation in Church House after the Tory Satan delivered a commanding majority, urged the faithful to get out and do good works instead of enjoying the trappings of power.

His preaching, alas, fell on deaf ears - as was evidenced in Ron Davies's walk on the wild side of Clapham Common, Gordon McMaster's suicide after smears about his sexuality, Robin Cook's wife-or-mistress ultimatum from No 10 (he chose the latter and turned her into the former) and Nick Brown's former boyfriend selling his story.

Drink in the right or the wrong bars and you will be told who is doing what to whom, where and when. Some of what is told will undoubtedly be true. Much more is just good old gossip - though Westminster gossip will never be the same after Michael Portillo's self-outing.

Most people working in the fevered world of SW1 were beginning to think all that nudge-nudge, wink-wink innuendo about Portillo's secret gay past was nothing more than gossip. His clearing of the decks proved there really was no smoke without fire in his case. Now, when a kindly soul in the bars protests that there is no evidence for the latest item of gossip or when a victim of tittle-tattle denies any indiscretion, the cry will go up "Ah, that's what they said about Polly!" Parliament is a nest of vipers where ambitious MPs and peers enjoy nothing more than a colleague's humiliation.

So who else is going to be exposed, their private life made public property? If we are to believe all the gossip and rumours swirling around the Westminster village, there are more than enough erring politicians to keep the News of the World in exclusives until well into the next millennium.

Take the bag-carrying parliamentary private secretary to a very senior minister caught earlier this summer enjoying a blow job in the Palace of Westminster from a male attendant . . . with the coupling captured on a security video. No one recounting the tale has seen the film, but it does, they insist, exist.

Undoubtedly one Blair Babe lives in fear of the release of nude photos snapped in happier days by a former lover. He may well want to cash in on her new-found fame. Again, no one has seen the pictures but, you are assured, they do exist.

We know that the son of the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, bought cannabis in a pub from a Mirror reporter. But another minister is worried, too: his son has a drug habit and he fears that it may come out if he takes a higher-profile post.

Love children? Westminster's got them in every shape and size from toddlers to adults, boy and girls, in Britain and abroad. One female minister likes her adult son so much she is said to be sleeping with him, much to the annoyance of the son's wife.

At least one senior shadow cabinet member, happily married, has a Portillo-style secret from his university days: a close friend who is well known in Westminster circles to be homosexual. He lives in periodic fear that he will be exposed to his reactionary, blue-rinsed constituents and will not thank Polly for coming out.

One gay Labour MP with a high profile, a particularly disliked figure by those who know him, would ring friendly hacks before the 1987 election and ask: "Is there anything in the papers about me?"

In the bars, they assure you that three prominent politicians are paedophiles. The first, often in the papers and on TV when he was in Thatcher's cabinet, was even investigated by the security services and was kicked out of government when it was feared the allegations were about to surface in the public prints. Apparently, he seduced the son of a friend. The second risked being linked to a children's home abuse scandal after a nasty court case. And the third is in Tony's government.

A Blair Babe in government is sleeping with a married minister and/or a No 10 aide - depending on who you believe. Another Downing Street special adviser is intimate with a lobby journalist. Yet another prefers nights of passion with a new Labour stormtrooper.

Blair's spin-doctor, Alastair Campbell, was reported to have warned Whitehall information heads that two cabinet ministers could not "keep their trousers on". Just two! One high-living politician with a seat at Tony's table is famed for his conquests in and out of parliament. A second enjoyed a long fling with an apparatchik who, as a reward, was shoe-horned into a safe seat near his own. Two young bucks regularly compare notes on their successes which, even though they now need to spend time going through their red boxes, are considerable. That makes at least four.

Names are put to all the above. Sometimes the same MP features in more than one tale. Sometimes the same tale features more than one MP. Buy your drink, and make your choice.

So why have you not read about the antics of the above law-makers on the rampage? Libel - newspapers risk Lottery-size payouts if they get the wrong man or woman.

Is Westminster any worse than it has ever been? New Labour has no monopoly on sex scandals. Old Labour contributed Ron Brown's shower romp with his secretary, while, during a more deferential era, Tom Driberg enjoyed his trips to the gents in the member's cloakroom with any chap who would oblige.

Nor has the left a monopoly on sexual indiscretions, as evidenced by the nocturnal activities of David Mellor, Tim Yeo, Rod Richards and many of their colleagues. Alan Clark went so far as to expose himself, bragging in his diaries of bedding a mother and her two daughters.

Westminster may be a school for scandal, but the real scandal is how the place has degenerated into a rumour mill where fact and fiction know no boundaries.

During the early 1990s share prices fell one Friday afternoon amid rumours that a Tory rising star was poised to leave his wife and set up home with another man. As so often in the City casino, the gamble was wrong and he appeared on TV that night with his wife in his constituency after an IRA bomb.

It would have been a sensational story if, like so many others, it was true. Portillo's confession will free MPs to argue their own gossip is true even when there is no evidence. Stand by for more disclosures . . .

The author is political editor of the "Mirror"