Robin Cook, the Leader of the House, has revolutionised parliamentary procedure in more ways than have been appreciated. His proposals to curtail late-night sittings and shorten the summer break were not popular among Labour backbenchers, particularly antediluvians from the north. But it was a free vote, and Cookie could not rely on government whips to deliver a majority. So he set up his own four-strong whips' office, with his PPS, Ken Purchase (a mean pool player), in charge of the millionairess Fiona Mactaggart (a new, slimline version), Ann Coffey and Martin Salter. They had no powers to coerce, even though one is nicknamed "Assaulter". The real whips sat in the Strangers' Bar watching with unconcealed amusement. But the plot worked, and Cookie will no doubt use his shadow whips again - unless the chief whip, Hilary Armstrong, puts her dainty foot down and requires disbandment of the Leader's Irregulars.
Who is briefing the Tory press about a conspiracy to oust Iain Duncan Smith? Sir Anthony Steen, the veteran MP for Totnes, who once had difficulty finding the door to the Foreign Office, has broken cover. Francis Maude has been fingered but probably hasn't the bottle. The plot was revealed here on 30 September, when I quoted an unnamed ex-minister saying that IDS would have to go if the party is still flatlining after the local elections next May. I can now reveal his identity. It was Douglas Hogg, the former agriculture minister.
Labour MPs required to complete the reselection document, stating whether they wish to stand at the next election, have been told to send it to Millbank Tower, despite the party's move to Old Queen Street months ago. Is there a secret stay-behind unit in the glass tower next to MI5?
Shy, retiring David Blunkett has relaunched his leadership manifesto (perhaps that should read "autobiography") in a bid to revive shareholder interest in his succession enterprise. The republication of On A Clear Day took place in the Attlee Suite of Portcullis House, to an invited audience that unaccountably did not include your correspondent. At least Blunkett can spell the former prime minister's name. Harriet Harperson invited guests to the "Atlee" suite to mark her 20 years as an MP. By the by, I am still pondering which current permanent secretary (not Home Office) said: "I never trust a home secretary who wants to become prime minister."
Priorities, priorities, priorities. The All-Party Parliamentary Wine Group, the second-largest body of its kind at Westminster, with 186 MPs, now has a regular newsletter, House Wine. The first edition welcomes the PM's instruction to the Strategy Unit to find ways of tackling alcohol abuse. But what does the wine group's diary record? A trip to Tenterden Vineyard, four sessions on wine appreciation, a St Valentine's Day party and a spring trip to Champagne and Calais. Oh, and "trade tasting" of the wines of South Africa, Slovenia and Oshtralia (hic). Plus Sotheby's wine sales. Quentin Rappoport, director of the Wine and Spirit Association, which publishes House Wine, gushes: "We are working closely with the officers of the group to encourage members to participate in all areas of the association's lobbying programme." You bet they are.
Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror