The Insider - Paul Routledge detects spooks at work

Spooks at work again, Harriet's prim hello, and the case of the missing MP

Some MPs believe the affair of the Queen Mother's lying-in-state is a replay of the spooks v Wilson game of the 1970s, which at one stage involved talk of establishment plots and military coups. They note that Black Rod is a Lieutenant-General and former top man at Nato. They also note that Peter Oborne, who broke the story, is an ultra-loyal supporter of Crown and Army, and son of Brigadier Oborne, secretary of the Anglo-Irish Parliamentary Body (but not, fascinatingly, in Who's Who). Unusually for Westminster hacks, who chiefly mix with politicians, Oborne is well-connected in the establishment demi-monde. When the dust settles, it could turn out that Tony Blair has been targeted by the usual suspects.

Talking of spooks, a new novel from Bob Marshall-Andrews MP explores the relationship between the secret state and criminals. A Man Without Guilt revolves around the kidnapping of the leftish daughter of a judge. It involves a gangland executioner and a Royal Marine officer. I understand that BMA has in mind a south London gang of the 1960s. But what does he have against what he calls "the pleasant and deeply dishonest County of Essex"? One character, a Labour-supporting clerk of chambers says: "Go on telling me about Essex. Lovely place, full of clients."

Arthur Lee, said to be an American rock star, created a stir on the Commons terrace the other evening. Balding, forty-something MPs went wild with delight. Stephen Pound (Labour, Ealing North) was on his knees, while Peter Bradley (Labour, The Wrekin) was almost dumb with excitement. Faced with a celebrity who had served a prison sentence for firearms offences, the Solicitor General, Harriet Harman, was in two minds, and offered a prim hello before fleeing. Only the granite-hewn Ulster Secretary, John Reid, was unimpressed. But then, he shakes hands with serial killers every day.

Iain Duncan Smith has finally forgiven political journalists for writing off his chances of becoming Tory leader. Last summer, as polling began, the press gallery invited Ken Clarke, the gag-a-minute bruiser, and his rival Michael Portillo, to lunch. IDS was ignored. After winning, he in turn ignored invitations to share his thoughts over inferior Commons food. With a new gallery regime in charge, Baldilocks has relented. The contest will be on 16 July.

Now we know why Paul Marsden MP was so keen to quit Labour and join the Lib Dems. They are much more relaxed about attending the Commons. In the second half of last year, he took part in 44 per cent of votes, placing him 600th out of 659. In the first two months after his defection, his score was 21 per cent. And this is the man who complained that Tony Blair "does not vote very often, which is a great worry for parliamentary democracy". Marsden also volunteered to give blood recently, but bottled out when he found that the local paper would not be covering this momentous event.

Harriet Harman makes a fuss about the FTSE Female Index, which tracks the slow rise of female company directors, in her annual report to constituents. But this Technicolor publication certainly celebrates her own success as £115,989-a-year Solicitor General. Hattie's smile decorates the front cover, and appears in five of the six photographs inside.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

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