The insider - Paul Routledge sees a big future for Clare Short

A rise in Clare's fortunes, the Worksop One, and a "find a job for Mandy" competition

So who would be deputy leader under Gordon Brown? The question was being asked at the TUC's summer reception, amid plaudits for the Chancellor. It was answered by a splendid entrance by a beaming Clare Short. She has emerged as the favourite to take over from John Prescott. Relations with Big Gordie have obviously improved with the spending review's big increase in overseas aid.

Labour chiefs are to take yet another leaf out of the Tories' book. Iain Duncan Smith has told his MPs to decide soon whether they wish to stand at the next election, so that, where necessary, successors may be put in place. Now Labour MPs have been told to make up their minds by 31 December this year. Apologists say it is only a formalisation of existing rules. But it is certain to cause a rumpus. "What," asked one of my parliamentary snouts, "if I say I will go and the NEC then seeks to impose an all-women shortlist? I can see my local party demanding that I stay on." Such sweet opportunities for dissent.

Roy Hattersley is discreetly lobbying for a peerage for his old Sheffield chum Joe Ashton, the former member for Bassetlaw. Well, as discreetly as he does anything. Lord Hatterjee asks why an ex-minister should be excluded from the Upper House simply because his career ended in a Thai massage parlour somewhere off the M1 in Northants. "Ennoble the Worksop One!" say I.

Conspiracy or cock-up? With supreme indifference to the claims of history, new Labour fixed its annual rural conference for 20 July at an agricultural college somewhere in the wilds of Shropshire. That is also the date of the TUC's yearly Tolpuddle march to remember the trade union martyrs transported to Tasmania in 1834. Anybody who is anybody in the agricultural labour movement should be on the march, but missing the conference might be interpreted as a snub to the great helmsman.

To the 118th Miners' Gala in Durham. An estimated 40,000 people watched the 40 banners of the county's former pits carried to the stirring sounds of brass bands. Tony Blair, whose constituency adjoins Durham, was invited, but did not bother to reply. He is the only Labour leader never to have attended, though he lives in a former colliery manager's office a few miles away. Soundings are under way to invite Gordon Brown next year. With respect to this year's stars, including Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn, the festival needs a higher-profile speaker.

IDS promised to the long-awaited

Press Gallery lunch that if Blair takes the axe to the Westminster lobby system, he will restore the status quo. Alas, no one present believed that he would ever be in a position to deliver.

MPs go on their three-month break in a few days, so this column also takes a break until the autumn party conference season. Meanwhile, the Observer has finally caught up with the story floated here weeks ago that twice-disgraced Peter Mandelson fancies himself as Our Man in Washington. No 10 stamped on the speculation. And Mandy was overheard in the Members' Lobby saying: "Why should I want to be a hotel keeper in Washington?" But what job should the leader's little helper be given? Answers to this column by the end of August; a £20 book token to the most original entry.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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