Paul Routledge

Does Tony Blair have a tattoo on his pert little bottom? The question dominated a Downing Street briefing, originally called to dress up the PM's humiliation in Australia as yet another victory for clear-headed statesmanship. Elinor Goodman, political editor of Channel 4 News, pressed the point repeatedly, if you see what I mean, but got noncommittal responses. The great helmsman's raunchiness was a subject of intense interest, aroused by news from the Commonwealth conference that Blair was wearing shirts decorated with busty nudes - on the inside where they could not be seen, naturally. As for the tattoo, opinion favours a heart with an arrow bearing the legend "Cherie", because she wouldn't allow anything else.

Government whips are inspecting their wounds after an exercise to gag backbenchers went horribly wrong. BBC1's On the Record hired half a dozen researchers to conduct a survey of Labour MPs about the wisdom of a US-UK war on Iraq. In line with ironclad policy, the whips instructed MPs not to take part. They defied in droves. The researchers were told to stop after 100 had voted. Fewer than ten agreed with Blair's warmongering. Is this the first sign of life re-emerging in the Parliamentary Labour Party?

M embers of the Scottish Parliament are already totting up their redundancy pay, due in 2007. The parliament is to be slimmed down to around 100 members from the present 126, according to my spies in Holyrood.

The Liberal Democrats are getting very cross over the lack of financial recognition of the leadership qualities of Charlie Kennedy. Young Carrot-Top has to get by on his back-bench salary of £51,000, while lain Duncan Smith gets a cabinet minister's salary of £118,000 a year. Since the Lib Dems are now back on the opposition benches after the departure of Paddy Ashdown, why not more moolah for Charlie? One Lib Dem frontbencher whines: "What if, after the next election, the Tories have 101 seats, and we have 100? There's no justice in perpetuating the existing system." The sandals brigade have a point, and the anomaly will look even greater if plans to give chairmen of select committees up to £78,000 a year come to fruition.

Lobby correspondents face eviction from the Westminster eyrie where No 10's Godric "Delphic" Smith briefs them daily. The Commons authorities propose turning the turret briefing-room into MPs' offices, though why they need more space after the £235m building of Portcullis House is a mystery. They propose to switch briefings to the Commonwealth Reading Room, sumptuously furnished with deep settees. It is normally used for viewing live TV coverage of Commons committees, but it has also been found convenient by romantically inclined members of the lobby.

Plans to stop the overrun of briefings - ie, to shut up the lobby grandstanders who love the sound of their own voice - have attracted far more resentment. Broadcasters are the worst culprits, prominent among them ITN's John Sergeant, who proclaimed after returning from a two-week holiday that Steve Byers would be "gone by the end of the day".

A small correction to my item on Tony Blair's surprise visit to the Strangers' Bar at Westminster. I am assured that the pint he was holding so gawkily was Young's bitter, not lager. But the episode has renewed curiosity about the PM's drinking habits. One lobby colleague remembers him whiling away half the night with a single bottle of Budweiser. Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News, once took Blair into a pub and asked him what he wanted. He pointed to the Guinness tap and said: "I'll have some of that Goo'ness." Not that, in the context of William Hague and his 14-pints-a-day boast, it matters very much.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror. His book on Airey Neave is reviewed by Norman Tebbit on page 50

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