Paul Routledge boasts of his three cherries

My amazing predictions, why Hewitt didn't get education, and the Great Thirst in action

It is not often that one gets three cherries in a row. Three weeks ago, this column predicted: Charles Clarke for Education Secretary, John Reid for party chairman, and Estelle Morris for the back benches. Plainly, Tony Blair takes more notice of the NS than he admits. At any rate, perhaps the gentleman who approached me on the number 24 bus in Trafalgar Square just before lunch on 16 October and said: "If Clarke gets education, I will pay you 50 quid" will now come forward to honour his debt. Meanwhile, why will crag-visaged, ex-pisshead John Reid get on famously with David Triesman, Labour's general secretary? Because both are members of our biggest political party - the ex-Communist Party.

But why did it take so long to appoint a Minister for Europe? It took three days to hand over what is left of the job, after Peter Hain's depredations, to Denis MacShane. The word at Westminster is this: the great helmsman proposed Patricia Hewitt for education, but decided the DTI has become too much of a revolving door. He then touted John Hutton, the personable health minister, for Europe, but Alan Milburn refused to let him go. So Blair went for the least offensive option, leaving MPs hugely unimpressed at his sacking skills.

Which leaves unanswered the Campbell question. I hear big Ali has told a close friend that he "cannot wait to get out". What is he waiting for?

Civil servants at the Department for Education know about Charles Clarke's thirst, since he did a stint there as a junior minister. But others still marvel. As one hack was ushered into his presence not long ago, an aide opened a bottle of wine. The hack was given a glass, while the Great Thirst walloped down the rest. On another occasion, a lobby reporter was told that the minister couldn't do lunch, but might manage a half-hour's drink. Accordingly, he ordered two glasses. "No! A bottle!" wailed Clarke.

Labour bosses are having mixed fortunes with their ultimatum to MPs of a certain age to declare this year whether they will stand at the next election. The aim is to impose ambitious Blairite harpies on safe seats north of Watford. But Austin Mitchell, aged 68, has decided to hang on in Grimsby, and Gwyneth Dunwoody, 72 next month, is clinging to Crewe. She will be the first Mother of the House, taking over from Tam Dalyell as longest-serving member. I expect more to follow their fine example.

It was so kind of Peter Mandelson, the twice-disgraced ex-minister, to put in a cameo appearance at the farewell party for Nick Jones, the perfectly serviceable political correspondent put out to grass by the BBC's retirement at 60 rule. True, Mandy left early because he simply had

to attend the launch for the autobiography

of his pal Lord Birt. Michael Portillo stayed, being now more of a journalist manque than a politician. I feel we have not heard the last of Jones the tape

recorder. His house is bulging with cuttings

for yet another book on spin-doctors.

The daily schlep from the Commons to Carlton House Terrace for No 10's lobby briefing is a step too far for some hacks. Charles Reiss, of London's Evening Standard, has chartered a chauffeur-driven limousine. Against keen competition for the back seat, the Sun's Trevor Kavanagh is in the lead.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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