Paul Routledge

Tony's trip to the Lone Star State was not exactly a media triumph, but much of the blame may be laid at the door of boorish American fans of the great helmsman. When the Prime Minister brought the tablets of stone down from the mountain, Andrew Marr, the BBC's political editor, was forced to stand at the back of the hall. He attempted a "two-way", a live interview with the Nine O'Clock News on his mobile phone - and Blair's devout audience began slow-handclapping. Poor Big Ears was forced to abandon the broadcast.

Perhaps Alastair Campbell's concentration had been temporarily diverted. He was staying in a hotel that was staging an American teenage beauty competition. For a Britney Spears fan like Ali C, the sight of so much pubescent flesh parading around the lobby - not to mention their possessive mothers - must have been most disconcerting.

To the Savoy for Maggie Thatcher's last hurrah. Naturally, she broke her doctors' embargo on public speaking, with a few words of thanks to her host, lain Dale, the proprietor of Politico's. Interestingly, the real venom of the 450 guests dining at £100 a head was reserved for Ted Heath: Sir Bernard Ingham's sneering denunciation brought forth applause and hissing in about equal measure. Comrade Dale wickedly seated me next to Tory vamp Christine Hamilton.

So much for new Labour's classless society. Tens of thousands queued for up to 12 hours for a minute's glimpse of the Queen Mother's catafalque in Westminster Hall. But peers and MPs could go in by the side door, and so could "escorted guests".

Overheard in the tunnel from Portcullis House to the exhibit, in the fruity tones of either a Tory MP or an officer of the House: "The reason why this building cost so much [£238m] is that it is designed to withstand the impact of a 1,000Ib bomb." Really? Not a few of its MP inhabitants would need ordnance of much greater heft to wake them up.

MPs are brassed off at losing a week's mourning holiday because the Queen Mother died during the Easter recess. Not only that, but they had to come back to Westminster for the day. It was small consolation that the whips gave them a day in lieu. This manoeuvre was designed to reduce the numbers at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is in restive mood over Blair's support for a war on Iraq.

The Queen, I am told, once had Michael Foot round to dinner, with the Duke of Edinburgh and a few other guests. It seems that HM got on rather well with old Footie, though she hated Thatcher, and did not have much time for Neil Kinnock. Anyway, as they tucked into their chicken Kiev, the Queen whispered in Michael's ear: "If you insert your knife at the right angle, you might get Philip." Not quite the comradeship of the Gay Hussar, eh?

You can tell political journalists by the elite London clubs they join, or so the argument runs. Jeremy Vine, the BBC's apprentice Paxman, has just joined the Reform. So has Simon Carr, parliamentary sketch-writer for the Independent. They join Michael Brown, the ex-Tory MP who also writes for the Independent. George Jones, sepulchral political editor of the Daily Telegraph, admits to membership of the Athenaeum, haunt of senior Anglican clerics. Donald Macintyre, Independent columnist, once joined the Travellers, haunt of diplomats and spooks. But I guess by now he has eaten his membership card.

There was an attempt to deselect Peter Mandelson before the 2001 election, I learn. It was a union plot, involving officers of his sponsors the GMB, and it had considerable support in Hartlepool. But names leaked to new Labour's gauleiters, and swift and terminal was their reaction. The libel laws prevent me giving further details. One can only muse agreeably on the theme of "what if?"

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror. Lynton Charles returns next week

Next Article