There have been few better friends to the Labour Party in the past 100 years than the Mirror newspaper. It has led many significant campaigns on behalf of its readers and Labour voters. Crucially, it has always had a firm understanding of politics. However, in recent years it has lost the plot. The decline can be laid at the door of one man, its entertaining, though reckless editor, Piers Morgan. This was brought home to me in a very personal way when Peter Mandelson resigned from the DTI. As his special adviser, I lost my job also. The following week, Morgan ran a front-page story and editorial in which he claimed I was "sticking the knife into Gordon Brown's brother". I was reported to have accused John Brown of leaking private memos between Peter and Gordon. Nothing could have been further from the truth, yet Morgan printed a tissue of lies. As he snidely commented the following day via a pager message: "Those who dance with the devil get pricked by horns." So, you can probably understand how I have watched the Mirrorgate share fiasco unfold with a touch of schadenfreude. The blame for the scandal should rest solely with the Mirror editor. He has told me on many occasions that his cheeky coverage of politics is "all good showbiz", a reflection on his time as editor of the Sun's excellent "Bizarre" column. It now seems that this style of reporting is seeping into his paper's City pages too. Maybe it's about time Morgan moved back to writing about pop stars and footballers. He should leave politics and business to people who make fewer mistakes.
There's not much I miss from my time in Whitehall. The hours were pretty grim and the phone never stopped ringing as copies of departmental memos piled up on my desk - memos that I was usually too busy to read. There was one short document that I always found time to see the minute it came out of the fax at noon every day. It was the "read-out" from that morning's lobby briefing. It gave a clear and concise breakdown of the questions raised by journalists in Downing Street at 11.00am followed by Alastair Campbell's response. Not only was the note a valuable summary of the Prime Minister's position on anything from BSE to Humphrey the cat, but it was also laced with more than a little humour. This week, I discovered that No 10 has started putting what was once an exclusive and private document on its website every morning. We can now all have our daily fix from the "PMOS", as he is described in the note. Have a look at www.number-10.gov.uk - it's marvellous. I imagine there will be a few grizzly old hacks in the Press Gallery who find the publication of lobby briefings a threat to their privileged position. I think if it encourages more openness by those who both present and report the work of government, then it is a very good thing.
Having resigned from a job myself last month, I now spend most of my time helping a few mates out with business projects, from PR agencies to flower shops (Art of Flower, opening soon) and websites. I have meetings in Starbucks and send e-mails from Easyeverything Internet cafes - two of the best things to open in London over the past 18 months. These coffee-houses are slowly taking over our lives and could even begin to influence politics - a fact brought home to me last year as I paid homage to Elvis in Graceland. While sitting in a seedy Memphis hotel lobby, I watched an early-morning review of the newspapers on TV. One pundit was asked who were the successors to the "soccer moms", a key constituency that backed the Democrats in 1992. He replied: "The Starbucks generation - people who have done well out of Clinton and can afford to buy an expensive cup of coffee." How long before UK political analysts start referring to "Pret A Manger voters"?
One election battle that is already pretty fierce is the one for London mayor. I voted for Frank Dobson and was relieved when he was selected as the Labour candidate. Before casting my vote, I went to two of Ken Livingstone's meetings and was intrigued by what he had to say. Although he has many faults, few people understand London's bread-and-butter issues better than he does. He is also a political operator who could have shown LBJ or Nixon a thing or two. Late last year, his advisers decided that they needed a few modernisers on board to boost their campaign. As I'd been spotted at the hustings, I was targeted as a possible recruit. Ken's charming tactics failed to work, but he knew every trick in the book when it came to schmoozing a potential supporter.
It is a great privilege to write for the NS, particularly as this must be the only point on which your columnist Paul Routledge and I would see eye to eye. He has never really forgiven me since I provoked him into revealing that he had a £204,000 nest-egg in his Skipton Building Society account - and was not quite the man of the people he likes to be considered.
Routers has since tried to take his revenge by suggesting in print that I'm gay. I'm not, but given that he sees himself as a bit of a leftie, you might think this line of attack a little odd. But then, anyone who has read his biography of Peter Mandelson would know that homophobic rants are something of a Routledge speciality.