Paul Routledge

Cherie Blair is proving to be the most charitable of hosts in No 10. The First Lawyer (perhaps that should read Lady) entertained visitors to only seven charity receptions in Downing Street in 1997, but that figure steadily rose to 46 in 2000 before falling back to 34 in the following election year. She easily outdistances Tony in the number of functions, and they are mostly under the general heading of charity, though she evidently serves a lot of tea to MPs and their children. According to figures supplied to the gratifyingly nosy new Tory MP for the Isle of Wight, Andrew Turner, Cherie hosted four receptions in little more than a fortnight at the beginning of the year. I wonder if any of these charities has legal connections. At any rate, the First Lady of the Teapot must be garnering a fine social reputation.

Remarkable. Downing Street officially admits that the media handling of Tony Blair's trip to Texas was, as Charlie Whelan would say, a complete parcel of bollocks. Alastair Campbell has written a grovelling letter of apology to the Westminster lobby, conceding that the Lone Star State excursion was a public relations disaster, and promising that things will be better next time. As disclosed in this column last week, a "two-way" live interview on prime-time television news, with the BBC's political editor Andrew "Radar Lugs" Marr, collapsed because of slow handclapping by boorish Yanks hanging on Blair's every word. Ali C has ordered an inquiry, and pledges negotiations with the lobby before the Great Helmsman's next voyage.

To the British Academy for the annual George Orwell award, which is stuffed with the sort of self-esteeming bourgeois groupies that the great man would have thrown out without a moment's hesitation. Orwell's niece confides that her uncle, famous for that haggard, indigent look, actually bought his clothes at Denny's, which I am assured is a very posh gentleman's outfitters. Most objectionable of all was the huge screen blow-up of Orwell's NUJ card, totally out of place in a room full of people who would think that unions are old Labour and beneath their dignity. Still, Miranda Carter was a worthy winner, with her biography of Anthony Blunt.

What it does for morale, I do not know, but a life-size cardboard replica of Buffy the Vampire Slayer occupies pride of place in the Home Office press office.

The authorities at Westminster have decided to waste yet more taxpayers' money, this time on ripping up the granite cobbles in New Palace Yard. They will be replaced by cheap tarmac. And so will depart for ever the purr of ministerial limousine on sets that would be good for at least another century. But there is no holding back the palace bosses when the urge to spend overcomes them. They have just laid out hundreds of thousands replacing the tarmac in the Lords car park with smart, modernist cobbles.

Another casualty of the Queen Mother's demise was the annual dinner of the 1992 Club, the Tory parliamentary intake of that year. Invitations had gone out to the 33 new MPs of John Major's general election victory. But the club's convener, the elegant frontbencher Nigel Evans, was obliged to cancel the event "out of respect". He had better hurry up with a new date. Half the club members have already lost their seats.

A liquid launch has finally been fixed this month for the Dictionary of Labour Biography, six months after it was published by Politico's. The editor, Greg Rosen, research chief for the engineering union Amicus, wants to serve some inferior wine before the paperback is out. Perhaps the new edition, unlike the first, will mention Peter Mandelson, the twice-disgraced ex-minister. Mandy was to have been included, but a flattering profile by his biographer, Donald Macintyre of the Independent, missed the deadline. Knowing Don, I imagine he ate it.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

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