Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Cabinet rivals court Brown - the next PM"

The Sunday papers have gone off the boil. That's probably because some of the best exponents of the imaginative weekend political story, like Tom Baldwin (ex-Sunday Telegraph) and Andy Grice (ex-Sunday Times), have moved on to more serious journalism on the dailies.

Long gone are the good old days spent pumping up stories in the Lords bar. The plans to sabotage the Royal Yacht and privatise the Tote may have had their origins over long, liquid lunches, but at least they turned out to be true. By those standards, the latest Sunday Times effort is pretty feeble.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that Gordon Brown may one day become PM. It's also pretty obvious that the cabinet will have been full of praise for the Budget, so the Sunday Times's political scoop of the week told us that cabinet ministers had been ringing him up to tell him what a good job he's doing. Not only that, but even Robin Cook rang to ask what he could do to help get the finance bill through parliament. (Shock, horror! Leader of House talks to Chancellor about Treasury-sponsored legislation.) So popular is our Gordy that we are told "Blair's Babes" are switching allegiance to him, even though it's quite obvious that Labour women MPs have always been keener on Brown than Blair.

We can be certain that there will be more and more stories about Brown taking over as PM. But I can promise that none of Brown's "friends" will be stoking things up. He reckons that staying 100 per cent loyal to Blair gives him a better chance of eventually taking over. And he knows that talent alone will not bring you the top job. Just ask Michael Heseltine.

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