Paul Routledge reveals an aborted spliff trip
An old Labour triumph, an aborted spliff trip, and the woman who sculpted Lenin
Tony Blair hates unions. He has never been a member of one (discounting his ersatz membership of the TGWU, solely for the sponsorship money) and is always ready to believe the worst of them. So it was wise of John Reid, the new Labour Party chairman, to demand the ousting of Robert Hill, the great helmsman's "political secretary" from No 10 as part of the price of taking over the bed of nails from Charles Clarke. Hill was overheard (at a Unison function) sneering at the unions. And Reid needs the unions' money. So Pat "Two Lives" McFadden, the sole surviving relic of the John Smith years, was brought back to Downing Street, in charge of links with the unions, and Hill is now trading at the education department. Two-nil to old Labour.
The mystery of who will succeed Tam Dalyell as Father of the House deepens. As noted here, Gwyneth Dunwoody, 71, says she wants to stay another term in order to become the first Mother of the House. But she seems to have overlooked Alan Williams (Swansea West, since 1964) and Kevin McNamara (Hull North, since 1966). Sir Patrick Cormack, Westminster's very own Malvolio, would be next if either of these retire. Gwyneth was first elected in 1966, but missed the 1970-4 parliament and the title goes to the member with longest continuous service. This promises to be an interesting bout, which I would prefer to referee from a safe distance.
Robin Cook has more to thank Alastair Campbell for than has hitherto been realised. Over lunch with the Lobby Girlies' Club, he confessed that his marriage to Margaret had been over in effect long before he was ordered by the PM's press secretary to choose between her and his secretary-lover, Gaynor. So the scene at Heathrow Airport, where Cookie wrestled with his conscience for, well, the best part of an hour, before defenestrating his wife was all a bit contrived. How very Cookie.
The BBC political programmes that face extinction are in fin de siecle mood. For a programme on drugs, On the Record decided to send three MPs to Amsterdam to be filmed smoking dope in a Dutch cannabis cafe. The Beeb's mandarins said they must pay their own fares and reclaim under miscellaneous expenses. The Corporation could not be seen spending taxpayers' money on a spliff trip. The outing was cancelled when one MP could not find his passport. But he had bought his non-refundable budget airline ticket, and wants his money back. Who says pantomime is dead?
The Marx Memorial Library has acquired a handsome bust of Lenin - sculpted by a cousin of Winston Churchill during the Russian civil war. While Churchill was urging Allied intervention in the nascent Soviet republic, his cousin Clare Sheridan was carving Vladimir Ilyich in Moscow. Sheridan's other subjects included Zinoviev, Dzerzhinsky, Trotsky and Gandhi. She also chiselled Churchill while he painted her, which must have been a disconcerting experience for both.
Having abandoned my biography of David Blunkett, Blind Ambition, on grounds of publisher indifference, I have agreed with Politico's to assemble the Routledge Book of British Lefties. The 250 entries will be based entirely on personal taste (or lack of it), but I am open to suggestions from readers.
Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror