Paul Routledge

There will be a Cabinet reshuffle in July, senior ministers believe. But it will not affect the big names, only figures "on the fringe". An axe seems to be hovering uncomfortably close to Chris Smith, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, who has an indigestible plateload of troubles ranging from News at Ten through football hooliganism (not my job, guv) to the ludicrous Dome.

This has to be the last shuffling of the pack before the election. My snout may be wrong on this occasion, but if I were a gambling man, I would put money on a cull of the women in the Cabinet.

William Hague is also contemplating a rearrangement of the deckchairs. Since the ignominious departure of Peter Lilley (remember him?), the Tory leader does not have a deputy. So, when Blair misses Prime Minister's Questions, he is in a quandary over who to field at the despatch box against John Prescott. He can flout convention and do it himself, for 'tis excellent sport. Or he can send Sir George Young, the shadow leader of the House, who is too well-mannered to skewer Prezza.

Accordingly, some serious thought is being given to appointing a deputy. There would then be three: the actual leader, his number two and the alternative leader, Michael Portillo.

Tedious though it may be, I must return to the subject of Andrew Marr's appointment as political editor of the BBC, which is still causing controversy in the Westminster village. Barrack-room lawyers insist that the selection is unlawful, because the post was never advertised, as required by the rules of the corporation. It was made through the old-boy network, over discreet hotel breakfasts in west London. Moreover, this procedure effectively ruled out women contenders, so it probably amounts to sex discrimination as well. The nearest a woman got to the job was by serving at Greg Dyke's table.

I must confess to confusing Tony Wright MP with Tony Lloyd MP, the chairman of the Trade Union Group of MPs last week. Apologies to both. This inexcusable offence was made doubly embarrassing by Brother Lloyd's kind invitation to a reception for his group at the Atrium on Millbank the very day this paragraph was written. I can only plead confusion after being invited by a senior woman Labour member (all right, it was Llin Golding) at the function to admire the legs of Jovanka Humble, the MP for Blackpool North and Fleetwood. I did not think such things happened at Westminster any more. But perhaps some traditional Labour women quite like the old-boy atmosphere of the Commons, unlike Tess Kingham, MP for Gloucester, who is quitting the Commons "because it is too much like a public school". How would the former press officer for War on Want know what a public school is like? She is a product of the state system.

Gerry Monkswell, the Labour hereditary peer, still has the capacity to upset his political masters. Deprived of his voting seat in the Lords in a stitch-up ballot of Labour hereditaries, Monkswell has thrown his hat in the ring for the should-be-safe seat of Dagenham. He is able to do this because the rules about peers standing for the Commons were changed last year. His intervention will not please No 10, whose minion John Cruddace is seeking nomination with the help of the engineering workers' union. The new Labour incumbent, Judith Church, is quitting after only one parliament, a victim of Kingham's Itch.

This business of family values is taken very seriously in Downing Street. Not just with the Blair baby, who is conservatively valued at half a dozen points in the opinion polls, but in the wider sense.

According to friends, Cherie believes in the family so much that she footed the bill for the fourth marriage of her father, the scouse actor Tony Booth. However, there are limits. Cherie did not name her new son after her father. "Know why?" asked a new Labour insider. "Because she's already named her husband that."

The writer is chief political commentator for the Mirror

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