The insider - Paul Routledge reveals the reshuffle gossip

Charles Clark for education, a Tory revolution, and some guidance from father-in-law

Post-Blackpool, the rumour mill is busy, grinding out gossip about a cabinet reshuffle. Some expect one at the traditional time, next July, others if and when Britain goes to war against Iraq. Most often mentioned for the chop is Robin Cook, Leader of the House. His crime has been to doubt, semi-publicly, Tony Blair's handling of the Saddam Hussein crisis. He has also created waves with his robust defence of parliament versus the executive. The charge sheet against the vacillating Clare Short is not so impressive. Anyway, she usually falls into line when the bombs start dropping.

But what to do with Charles Clarke, who by common consent has screwed up (he would use less formal language) as party chairman? Political hacks thought his off-message remarks about the NHS and other issues were deliberate, the product of a licence from Downing Street to sniff the breeze. Now it appears they were plain, old, ordinary gaffes. The Northern Ireland Secretary, John Reid, is regarded as the most likely successor, but who would want to take over from His Thirstiness after his disastrous debut? Amazingly, Clarke is being talked of as education secretary, with Estelle Morris binned off for the A-level fiasco. I simply bring you this tittle-tattle as I hear it.

The other name in the frame is Alastair Campbell. He is said to be tired of working the great helmsman's sails. In Blackpool, Ali appeared at a lobby briefing dressed unusually casually, and offered a desultory rundown on the PM's speech. Should he decide that eight years as Blair's alter ego is long enough, he could turn his secret daily diary into a million-pound bestseller. That's why he will be prevailed upon to stay. Anyway, unlike his titular boss, he is irreplaceable.

The Tories are planning a revolution. In their conference, that is. Central Office strategists promise "dramatic" change, probably to a weekend gathering of the faithful spread over three days rather than five. Hallelujah! But why stop there? A one-day rally would be enough. By the way, Ken Clarke, having said he would go nowhere near Bournemouth, was very much in evidence as soon as the leadership question raised its bald head once more.

News from inside the impenetrable walls of Labour's National Policy Forum. Charles Clarke tried to oust Ian McCartney from the forum vice-chairmanship. He thought the diminutive work and pensions minister should "move on" and make way for a woman. Result: the forum now has two female vice-chairs plus McCartney, re-elected by acclamation. The rules say there can only be two such positions, but this shambles has been brushed under the carpet in the name of, erm . . . party unity.

Perhaps Blair's father-in-law knows something we don't. In the week when the PM did not mention "new" Labour, Tony Booth told Politico magazine: "The Labour Party has always been a broad church able to encompass many ideals, and history shows sometimes one point of view dominates. However, I believe it is unwise to assume that this dominance is ever permanent."

The renegade Labour MP Paul Marsden, now a Lib Dem, writes in Parliamentary Monitor that "the House of Commons is just a game, and outside is where real life is". Well, why doesn't he get one, then? A Shrewsbury by-election would be a welcome diversion.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

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