Paul Routledge

The Foreign Office minister Peter Hain, who thinks Tony Blair is the most wonderful leader in world history, paused in his devotions the other day to send a series of e-mails to BBC Radio 5 Live's Sunday Service. The first showed a baby in a Chelsea shirt, smiling at a message that read: Chelsea 1 Spurs 0. Three succeeding shots showed the child's grin widening as the scoreline raced to Chelsea 4 Spurs 0. The e-mails were to Charlie Whelan (he is a Spurs supporter, while Hain supports Chelsea) and they arrived as the show was still going out live. I am surprised that the minister has nothing better to do.

To Sotheby's, as promised, for the launch of Sir John Nott's memoirs, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, held on the night of the Commons vote on fox-hunting. Lord (Norman) Tebbit tells me he took a shotgun to a rabbit that was eating the roses in the garden of his country home. "And I ate it," he says with gusto. The only surprise is that he shot it first.

James Callaghan did once admit that he ballsed things up, it can finally be disclosed. At a dinner for the Westminster Class of '79, held on the 20th anniversary of the election, the ex-prime minister conceded that he should have quit the party leadership straight after losing the general election to Maggie Thatcher, instead of hanging on for another year. The delay, which may be ascribed to his substantial vanity, allowed Michael Foot to succeed him instead of Denis Healey. And Healey might have won in 1983, Sunny Jim reflected to his audience. A bit late for regrets, the MPs grumbled.

Some harsh words in the health select committee, chaired by the avuncular David Hinchliffe. The Tory MP Simon Burns, dissatisfied with the briefing the committee got from the Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, ordered: "Get Milburn back!" Jim "Loud" Dowd, the former Labour whip and ex-garage manager, hissed: "Mr Milburn to you." "Sorry," grovelled Burns. "Public school upbringing." Really? The reference books show that he attended Christ the King School, Accra, then Stamford School, Lincs. Not exactly top of the range, old boy.

Annie's Bar, spiritual home of this column, was reopened by Barbara Windsor to great acclaim. The sixtysomething star of EastEnders wore black leather, and the Black Country MP Dennis Turner, chairman of the Commons refreshments committee, proved a lusty singer. The long-promised pool table is on its way. The bar has had a refit, but the customers - MPs and lobby correspondents - were deemed too advanced in years to benefit from similar treatment.

John Sergeant, the ITN political guru, had to cancel his seat on the plane to the EU summit in Barcelona with the PM. Reason? He was having a second fitting of the latex face mask needed for his proxy appearances in a televised version of the satirical radio show Dead Ringers.

Before the last election, Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, Nato's colonial governor in the Balkans, triumphantly reported to Charlie Kennedy that he had secured Downing Street's backing for him to have a government car. The carrot-top kid was mightily pleased. But after the election, the offer dematerialised, and Kennedy still has to take taxis everywhere. Has the government's failure to deliver anything to do with the Lib Dems' better-than- expected performance last June? Or with their targeting of 50 "winnable" seats in the next election - many of them Labour?

To lunch with ex-Unison leader Rodney Bickerstaffe and Rosie Boycott, former editor at the Independent and Express. He shows a Labour membership card covered with a space-age coating that does not allow him to sign it. Rosie announces that she has quit Labour for the Lib Dems, and much time is spent discouraging her from seeking a seat at Westminster. Though, on reflection, she would be an ideal by-election candidate.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

Next Article