Paul Routledge

New Labour's attitude towards the security services is puzzling. On the one hand, it pursues the MI5 renegade David Shayler with a vigour exceeding its prosecution of General Pinochet. On the other, Robin Cook, a constant critic of the spooks in opposition, is now fulsome in his praise for the SIS.

In his new book on MI6, the intelligence expert Stephen Dorril discloses that "all efforts to elicit a pre-election policy" on the security services from the leadership failed. I can be a bit more specific. Tony Blair told Dorril to get in touch with Jack Straw. Straw's office said he was "thinking about it" and produced nothing. Ditto Cook. So the spooks concluded that new Labour didn't have an intelligence policy, and promptly gave the government one. It may be summarised in the immortal words of pools winner Viv Nicholson: "Spend, spend, spend."

Dorril also concludes that the postwar foreign secretary Ernie Bevin, so far from being the far-sighted political genius portrayed by his biographer Alan Bullock, was "the dupe of far cleverer minds" in his department. Officials wrote most of his telegrams, which he did not always read. One is tempted to believe that only Harold Wilson (or Garold, as the Russians called him) ever got the full measure of the security services.

After Gordon Brown's vote-catching Budget, wicked minds at Westminster are asking: "Who will mind the shop while the Prime Minister is on paternity leave? The Deputy Prime Minister, or the Alternative Prime Minister?"

When Ken "Readies" Livingstone mumbled his apology to the Commons last Monday, the parliamentary lobby waited for Millbank to seize on his embarrassment in the cause of demolishing his credibility. The strike never came. Why? Because some bright new Labour spark offered the view that it could rebound on the party. Come again? Well, during his time as a backbencher, the undisgraced Northern Ireland Secretary might have been on the books of some of the same speaking agencies that paid Ken up to three grand a time to get on his hindlegs after dinner. And questions might be asked about how much Peter Mandelson earned. And from whom. And through which agency.

I consulted the Register of Members' Interests. Mandy mentions "fees and honoraria from occasional speeches, lectures, talks and articles". No details are given and none is required - Ken's error was to omit regular arrangements - but it would be nice to know more.

Speaking of Livingstone, why, if transport in London is such a big issue for him, does he decline to debate the issue in public? Stephen Glaister, transport professor at Imperial College, has invited all the candidates to a brainstorming session on 4 April. Knobber Norris and Susan Kramer, the Liberal Democrat, have accepted. "Readies" is too busy.

And speaking of Mandy, a member of the engineering union, Mike Stevanovich of Didcot, Berks, has complained to his general secretary Sir Ken Jackson over the AEEU funding of Mandy's trip to South Africa last year. Sir Ken replied: "It is important that this union retains its internationalist outlook and supports our counterparts in their fight against injustice and poverty." Absolutely. Sir Ken adds that the AEEU "was delighted to assist in the re-election of Nelson Mandela and his government". This will come as news to Thabo Mbeki, who took over when Mandela stood down at the general election.

A self-appointed Tory hit squad - including two ex-ministers, Eric Forth and David Maclean - is making life a misery for Labour backbenchers. They adopt procedural devices to keep the House up all night whenever they can, forcing the Chief Whip, Ann Taylor, to hold 200 MPs in reserve. But the terror gang is finding it hard work. On one bizarre occasion, they managed to find only two tellers, and not a single MP to vote for them.

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

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