Paul Routledge

The harum-scarum over Downing Street's sacking of the errant spin-doctors Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith proved a fortunate diversion from the other story swirling around Westminster: an imminent Cabinet reshuffle. It was confidently predicted that Alan Milburn would get the shove from Health, to be replaced by the twice- disgraced Peter Mandelson. Jack Straw was in trouble, said the sages, and might be sacked in favour of David Blunkett, while the Home Office could go to Yvette Cooper. Alas, the confidence was misplaced, as it usually is. Reshuffle day came and went, and all bottoms were still on the same seats. Except that of Mandy, deduced as the source of the report.

The great helmsman's mission to west Africa felled five of the accompanying media entourage. It wasn't the Prime Minister's sermonising that made them throw up, but an unwise choice of tuna carpaccio at an ethnic restaurant in Dakar. Quite what they were all doing in francophone Senegal is still a mystery, as the former French colony is way outside Britain's sphere of influence. Perhaps the blessed Tony wanted to be in a Roman Catholic country on Sunday.

The colourful accounts filed by Andrew Marr against a backdrop of native dancers jumping through fiery hoops was redolent of Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. BBC viewers did not know that Big Ears' head was throbbing louder than the African drums, after an unwise night on the sherbet with the bad boys of the Westminster lobby. At least he was spared the attentions of the Nigerian hookers in the Abuja Hilton, who tried (allegedly unsuccessfully) to part Fleet Street's finest from their travelling expenses.

F urther and better intelligence from Paris offers an explanation for Tony's slight froideur with France. With Gallic guffaws, a group of French diplomats told a Brit that the French verb blairer means "to smell". So Il Blaire = "he stinks". And je ne peux pas le blairer is "he gives me the creeps". Un blair is a large nose, a hooter. In this case, perhaps a Pinocchio nose. If that's what they are saying behind his back, I don't blame Blair for giving the frogs a wide berth.

The authorities have a cunning plan to boost attendance in Annie's Bar, spiritual home of this column, by installing a pool table. This is a very good idea. An ability to play billiards is a sure sign of a misspent youth; MPs who show an aptitude will be treated with greater respect.

Meanwhile, the Commons catering committee is to inquire into what are quaintly known as "refreshment facilities" at Westminster. Its brief - to balance "demand and capacity" - is ominous. MPs spend less time in the palace these days, but the great refreshment show goes on. The committee will "explore different options for dealing with demand, including possible changes to the current code for access rights and pricing mechanism". In plain English, prices will go up and hand-picked civilians might get to use the officers' mess.

Stephen Hesford, low-profile MP for Wirral West, suffered a broken leg while playing in goal in the Members v Lobby football match. This is a hat-trick for the hacks, who broke Gerry Sutcliffe's leg last year and Willie McElvie's a few years ago - the latter after strong warnings from his wife that he must not play. McElvie smuggled his kit down from Scotland in the diplomatic pouch, but was unmasked by his injury.

Was the great Irish socialist James Connolly an Esperantist? In the latest bulletin of the Marx Memorial Library, Ken Keable cites a biography published in Dublin in 1924, and Connolly's reference in Workers' Republic in 1899 to "the inevitability of a universal language". Keable also suggests, with rather less conviction, that three other martyrs of the 1916 Easter Rising - Joseph Plunkett, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and Peadar Machen - also spoke Esperanto. No wonder the British shot them all.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

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