Paul Routledge

The ugly rumour is true. Tony Blair cannot keep his hands off people's guitars. He startled fellow travellers on the plane back home from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting with an impromptu performance on the miniature instrument bought at a second-hand shop in Oz by my Mirror colleague Paul Gilfeather. The Great Helmsman strummed a few chords, which may have helped soothe his exasperation at being turned over by the black Commonwealth on the Zimbabwe issue. He was amiable enough to pose for a picture with the accompanying journalists, a first since he took office.

That unseemly spat between Gorgeous George Galloway and the slender Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw exposed a gaping hole in parliamentary procedure. Commons sessions in Westminster Hall are supposed to enjoy parity of esteem with those in the main chamber, though in practice they attract much less notice. When Bradshaw called Galloway a mouthpiece and apologist for Saddam Hussein, and Pasha George called him a liar, the presiding Deputy Speaker, John McWilliam, found he could not suspend either MP because it was a morning and the full House (whose approval is required in order to suspend a member) was not in session. McWilliam had no option but to suspend the sitting. The usual channels are scratching their heads about what to do if something like this - or even worse - happens again.

It did not go down particularly well when a member of the Sunday lobby at Westminster addressed Steve Byers as "Alan" in the Strangers' Bar, thereby revealing that political correspondents still have difficulty telling the Transport Secretary and Alan Milburn apart. They are thought of as a portmanteau person, whereas Byers is not a Geordie, nor does Milburn wear specs. Otherwise, the literary conceit is sound. Perma-tan Byers was ostensibly in the bar to watch his adopted team, Newcastle, being comprehensively thrashed by Liverpool, though he spent much of his time schmoozing with the media and MPs. If this is the best he can do, perhaps rumours of an Easter reshuffle are not so wide of the mark.

The lobby has more important things to worry about than the fate of ministers - such as the decision of the Press Gallery cafeteria to move the milk for tea and coffee a full six feet from the till in order to speed up business. This draconian move attracted a whole page of protest in the ancient, leather-bound complaints book. The ruling was reversed.

Meanwhile, bar staff at the Commons have finally won their 40 days' annual leave, the dispute over which was reported here earlier. But not before their union, the GMB, had dragged the Scrooge-like authorities to the conciliation service Acas. It's amazing. Untold millions are spent every year on refurbishing Westminster - it's the world's oldest building site - yet the bosses still begrudge their underpaid staff a decent holiday.

Good to hear from Lady (Betty) Boothroyd that peers now have free postage, at least 30 years after MPs got the privilege. But it's limited, so she still buys her own, although, on a pension of around £80,000 a year from the Speakership, that should be no hardship.

Sir John Nott, the Tory defence secretary who walked out of a live TV interview in 1982 with Robin Day, is evidently not satisfied with holding the launch of his memoirs, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, at the bookshop of his publisher, Politico's. His "recolIections of an errant politician" will go down the slipway at Sotheby's Galleries on 18 March. It seems that Hugo Swire, the new Conservative member for East Devon, an Old Etonian who once mistook Ken Clarke's wife for a lavatory attendant, is a director of Sotheby's - and Nott's son-in-law. I shall be on parade, despite not a single Tory MP attending my own bash at Politico's for my biography of Airey Neave.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

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