Paul Routledge

Normally, I would hesitate to make assumptions about an election that takes place the day after the NS goes to press. But I think I can safely predict that, after the votes are counted, Frank Dobson will be in need of a job.

One respectably held view says that Dobbo cannot be allowed to go to the back benches to nurse his humiliation. In days gone by, he would, like Sir Len Williams, one-time general secretary of the Labour Party, have been shipped off to the colonies as a cocked-hat governor. Since that is no longer possible, don't discount the story - heavily pooh-poohed in the daily papers in recent days - that Margaret Beckett will be sacked so that Dobson can succeed her as Leader of the House. Blair has little time for the independent-minded woman who dared to oppose him for the leadership in 1994. And she actually likes the Labour Party - a capital offence.

The other candidate for the chop seems likely to be Mo Mowlam, currently at the Cabinet Office, the ministerial departure lounge. Working with the film-maker Linda McDougall on a film about Mo for Channel 4 (to be broadcast on 6 May), I have been struck by the scale of political unhappiness seething just below the surface. Ex-ministers and MPs queued up to denounce Downing Street's whispering campaign against the government's most popular woman member. Some ministers share their feelings, but mindfuI that they may one day be on the wrong end of a No 10 monstering, they dare not reveal them to camera.

There's nothing new about No 10 rubbishing those who fall out of favour: Sir Bernard Ingham famously briefed lobby correspondents that John Biffen was a "semi-detached" member of the Thatcher administration. What is new is the sheer, wicked ruthlessness of the Blairistas, their contempt for collective government and their ill-concealed dislike (or is it fear?) of women, particularly women from the pre-Tony years. That being so, perhaps we should take more seriously the mutterings against the Chief Whip, Ann Taylor.

An entertaining footnote: Peter Mandelson is being tipped to return from the mess he has created in Ulster to take over from Mo. Could he beat the curse of the Cabinet Office, where he began his ministerial career as a junior minister? Jack Cunningham and David Clark couldn't. Nor could the Tory incumbents, David Hunt and Roger Freeman.

Back-bench Labour MPs of the traditionalist variety are finding themselves on the end of a charm offensive from the Prime Minister. In discreet corners of the tea-room and elsewhere at Westminster, Blair emissaries - parliamentary private secretaries and whips - are spinning the message that No 10 cares about their agenda. "He understands your concerns," is the general message. The subtext continues: "He'd like to do something about it, but Gordon won't give him the money." This effort to enhance Blair's street cred (perhaps that should be "corridor cred") is being met with well-nigh universal derision. However, a word of caution. The unstated threat is that rebels might find themselves deselected before the election. New Labour needs a shoal of new peers, and some MPs will come under relentless pressure to give up their seats for the good of the project.

When Helen Clark, the newly elected Labour premier of New Zealand, visited Downing Street the other day, her academic husband, Peter Davis, declined the honour of meeting the great helmsman, and went to a bookshop instead.

But even in bookshops you can't necessarily avoid the fellow. Dawdling in a bookshop in Eastgate, Beverley (as one does during the Easter recess), I found a long-forgotten autobiography, Russian Hazard, describing the exotic life of a British-Tsarist spy, Dorian Blair, and his role in subverting Rasputin, the Tsarina's favourite. For a nanosecond, the idea that Blair is an Oscar Wilde figure with an oil painting in the attic of No 10 is attractive, but happily it fades.

The writer is chief political commentator for the Mirror