An evening with Widdecombe, the state of political socks, and Mandelson's odd obit

Naturally, Alastair Campbell is playing down his role as go-between in the greatest romance since Tony met Cherie: the love match between Sven-Goran Eriksson and Ulrika Jonsson. He told me he "only introduced her to Sven as an even more important Swede" en passant. Or maybe it was the other way around. At all events, he is keen not to be seen as the Pandarus of No 10, innocent or otherwise. The real suspicion is that he may have been burying the bad news (for Tony Blair) of the Budget.

To the Old Vic for the Tony Benn show, where the veteran holy roller surprised the audience by announcing an autumn double-act at the Royal Festival Hall with the Tory chairman, David Davis. In the front row of the circle, Davis, owner of the most broken nose in the Commons, blanched. "He's trapped me. How the hell can I get out of it now?" he whined to fellow Conservatives. Incidentally, why was Tony allowed to smoke his pipe on stage, in clear contravention of the safety rules? The Tory MP Richard Shepherd, sitting next to me, had to rush out of the theatre for a gasper. We discussed which politicians would rate a one-man show, agreeing on the late Enoch Powell and Denis Healey. In fact, get ready for An Evening with Ann Widdecombe. "Better than a night, I suppose," observed an ungallant MP.

How kind of twice-disgraced Peter Mandelson to fill in some of the gaps in his autobiography, even if an obituary of Veronica Crichton, the former Labour Party press officer, in the Guardian is not quite the right place to do it. We learn that Mandy took over as Labour's media supremo on his 32nd birthday, and that Veronica played no part in his appointment. He was given her "box-sized room" and introduced to subjects of his "new empire". He fails to add that he knocked down a communicating wall and annexed the print buyer's office, giving himself an imposing glass box bigger than anyone else's, including that of the general secretary Larry Whitty. Mandy could not miss an opportunity to snicker at "our occasionally creaking health service" - but hell, what are obituaries for if you can't sneer at the NHS?

The pool table has duly been installed in Annie's Bar at Westminster, spiritual home of this column. Alas, it has been set up the wrong way round, giving no room for MPs and lobby journalists to exercise talents acquired in a misspent youth. A later adjustment, placing the table diagonally across the room, achieved only a broken lamp, from a stray cue.

Into the Press Gallery lift pops a young man with a pretty little duelling scar, asking the way to Iain Duncan Smith's office. He turns out to be Dominic Cummings, the Tory party's new director of strategy. I take him to the central lobby, from where he finds his way. How the Tories can take directions on strategy from a youth who does not know where his boss works is beyond comprehension. Central Office chums insist that he is "very non-Conservative", meaning that he doesn't wear a tie.

The socks life of politicians never ceases to entertain. Tony Blair favours turquoise vertical stripes against a dark blue background. Paul Tyler, the Lib Dem chief whip, prefers black horizontal stripes on a red or yellow background. When he crosses his legs the effect is of demented bees issuing from his trousers.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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