The insider - Paul Routledge on big ears burning at the Beeb

A case of air rage avoided, Portillo gets shirty, and why big ears are burning at the Beeb

So anxious was Tony Blair to watch the World Cup final if England had got there that he was prepared to take his life in his hands. The prime ministerial plane was to go from the G8 summit in Kananaskis, Canada, to Yokohama. But only Blair and Alastair Campbell would have been allowed off to watch the match. Other ranks, and the media, were to be held incommunicado on the tarmac, without even a television. Political hacks warned of mayhem if this plan went ahead. They were already cross after being quartered in Calgary, 100km from the summit, in a hotel where smoking was verboten.

Michael Portillo's latest excursion into television did wonders for the shirt trade. His producers suggested that his wardrobe might be livened up a bit; so he went out and bought seven shirts of varying luminosity, most of them unsuitable for filming. Did he put them on expenses, and will he declare them in the Register of Members' Interests? The rest of us have to buy our own shirts.

There, there, Tony. It must hurt, but it can't be helped. Norman Willis, the former TUC general secretary, followed in the footsteps of the great helmsman to the podium at the Women's Institute annual conference. Instead of the slow handclap, Norman got a standing ovation. Perhaps he is more in touch with his feminine side, writing poetry and crocheting in the long winter evenings.

Ken Clarke boasts in the Parliamentary Bulletin that he is "very much based in Nottinghamshire, with a better knowledge of Leicestershire and Derbyshire". That being so, he should know that the "Vale of Beaver" is a figment of his furry animal imagination. If he cares to consult the Duke of Belvoir, he might get the spelling right.

Soon after becoming schools minister, David Miliband was called into the office of the headmistress. Would he, asked Estelle Morris coyly, like to go to the Riviera? Not much. Then here's a ticket to the head teachers' conference in Torquay, she quipped. Ooooh! What a sense of humour. That girl will go far.

Essentially, au fond, and all that, this column is a friend of Hattie Harman, the great lunch-canceller and Solicitor-General. She once complained after lunch with the Independent on Sunday at Wheeler's in Brighton that we plied her too generously with Chablis, causing a certain flush about the gills when she addressed the party conference. Still, she must wish to advance the cause of hubby, Jack Dromey, in the TGWU general secretaryship election. Thrice-defeated frere Jack has been distancing himself from the Blair project lately, and on name recognition alone he must start favourite this time. But prepare for an upset in the Amicus election, where Derek Simpson, a Derby-based official, has the Blairite general secretary, Sir Ken Jackson, on the run. On the ballot, he is plain Ken. What must Lady Jackson think about that?

Much muttering, one hears, at the BBC about Big Ears, aka Andrew Marr, the opinionated political editor. During the departure angst of the amorous "no socks please, we're British" Stephen Byers, Andy fell for the propaganda line of his fellow elephant-ears Charles Clarke, who imagined he was about to take over as transport secretary. He didn't, and perhaps His Thirstiness now regrets falling out with Gordon Brown.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

Next Article