The insider - Paul Routledge reveals Edwina's one-night beau

New deal with the unions, the hacks' airborne revolt, and Edwina's one-night beau

Blackpool lingers, in a way that will infuriate the Labour Party chairman Charles Clarke. While the Great Thirst patrolled the studios and the conference fringe, preaching state funding for political parties, union leaders met in secret to draw up plans to sustain the existing system - but with a beguiling difference. They will offer funding for a five-year programme, come rain or shine. This package will pull the rug from under new Labour critics who portray union funding as "buying policies". How can they say "no" to this deal? Hondootedly, as John Cole used to say, the truly anti-party people in government will find a way. This proposal will expose them for what they are.

Moscow was not simply a bloody nose for Tony Blair. His humiliation at the hands of "Ras" Putin was echoed in a mortifying climbdown by No 10 apparatchiks on the plane. Toff hacks (we are usually speaking here of the Sun and the Daily Telegraph) who paid twice the £800 "economy" fare to Russia so they could travel Club class with the PM revolted when they learnt that their Airbus seats were the same size as steerage. Downing Street officials swiftly caved in and promised to charge the same price to everybody. Otherwise, it was a tedious trip: 24 hours of travel and confinement, enlivened only by a half-hour briefing in Putin's dacha and the sight of a dead body by the roadside en route back to the airport.

Edwina Currie was not always as fatally attractive to men as she was to John Major. Oh, no! When she was a student at St Anne's College, Oxford, Currie was (if one may be so ungallant) so unattractive to fellow Tories that she was obliged to seek her partner for the Blenheim ball from the ranks of the opposition. Her choice alighted on Guy Harkin, president of the union and a staunch Labour boy in Hertford College. The Scouse femme fatale offered to buy his ticket, pay his cab fare and fill his boots with champagne. Harkin, being from Bolton, did not look a gift horse in the mouth, though the equine parallel did occur to him. He is now Councillor Harkin, and deputy leader of the Greater Manchester Passenger Authority, which just goes to show that Edwina is right: there is no justice in life. And since you ask: no, there was no hanky-panky.

Andrew Hunter, the turncoat Tory MP who is departing to Northern Ireland, feared the loss of his Basingstoke constituency at the last election. And with good reason. Labour came within 800-odd votes of unseating him. The Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble sent him a letter of support during the campaign, and Hunter's best friend is Jeffrey Donaldson, the Ulster Unionists' hardline leader-in-waiting. Strange, then, that Hunter (who voted against power-sharing in the province) proposes to stand for Ian Paisley's DUP in Donaldson's Lagan Valley constituency.

You know the festive season is still a long way off when the Labour Party begins sending round raffle tickets for the Christmas prize draw. This year, the tickets have gone out with polling papers for London mayoral and European parliamentary election candidates. It must be entirely coincidental that the first prize of a Eurostar weekend break is donated by the sitting MEPs, Robert Evans, Mary Honeyball and Claude Moraes, who are all standing again.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

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