Paul Routledge

Of course, it isn't true that Downing Street is a nest of control freaks. They don't tell ministers to whom they can speak and what they can say. So they keep telling us. But my colleague Nick Cohen, making a Channel 4 film about Tony's New Boy Network, came across a memo from No 10 advising ministers to stay clear and keep their mouths shut.

The signature was blacked on screen, when the film was shown on 6 May. I can tell you that the instruction was signed by Paul Brown, a member of the Orwellian Strategic Communications Unit in Downing Street.

This is a first. Brown is not a qualified spin-doctor or even a political appointment. He was number 83 (or something like that) in the Department of Health press office over the road in Whitehall.

So now junior civil servants can order ministers around - as long as they are civil servants who work for Alastair Campbell. No wonder Rory Bremner's cruel send-up of the Blair-Campbell relationship rings so true.

It was intriguing to hear a government whip rebuff Charlie Whelan in the Strangers' Bar the other day with the prediction: "Your mate Gordon Brown will never be leader of the Labour Party. Jack Straw is the man."

I must confess, the idea never entered my head. Lesser fry have had books written about them, but not hard-hat Jack. Perhaps I should repair the omission.

I asked for proposals for a new name to succeed new Labour when the admen require a change. Not many were forthcoming. Martin Green of Earl's Court, London, suggested "Postmodern Labour", which is quite fun until he gives his reason: "The truth is that after the Third Way comes the fourth way, which hopefully will combine substance and style on the basis of a Keynesian outlook and incomes philosophy, underpinned by wage ratios." Moving on quickly, the prize of a £25 credit at Politico's bookshop goes to Philip Cowley, a lecturer in politics at Hull University, for his entry: Classic Labour.

Peter Mandelson has told the Prime Minister that he wants to come home and win the general election for new Labour, so he will presumably get his way. One hopes that his manners will improve. When a press photographer got one frame of him being driven away with his Brazilian boyfriend from the theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Mandy leapt out of the car, pushed past the startled snapper and ran down a side street, leaving the hapless Reinaldo still in the car with his bodyguard.

Sometimes it is worth revisiting the scene of a crime. Clive Soley MP, the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, flatly denied saying at an election strategy meeting in Millbank that pensioners are not really worth bothering with because they don't vote Labour and some of them are racist. So why do people who were at the meeting keep telling me that that was indeed the burden of his remarks? And why did Blair ignore a pointed question on the issue at a PLP meeting chaired by Soley? And why has Soley not carried out his threat to report the Sunday Times - whose report on the matter three weeks ago he described as "fundamentally untrue" - to the Press Complaints Commission? I await the answers with interest.

Unexpected humour from the local bobby in Walworth Road who voted for the Natural Law Party in the London mayoralty election. "I'm interested in yogic flying," he said. "Round here, they're always telling me pigs might fly."

It's a good job he isn't in the Labour Party. I hear of a young female party member who decided to resign over Labour's drift to the right (as she saw it) and told a senior party figure of her intention. "But we don't accept resignations," he said. "You have to wait 18 months until you're lapsed for non-payment of subs." So that's how they keep the membership numbers up.

The writer is chief political commentator for the Mirror and a biographer of Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson.

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