Paul Routledge spots the changing face of IDS

The new face of IDS, Blair's expensive travels, and an impertinent peep at Cherie

Note the change in the face of Iain Duncan Smith. In the Conservative Party diary for 2002, he appears in a full-length portrait, with a blue light shining like a halo behind his head. The pose is stiff, the aspect serious. In the 2003 diary, we see a more voter-friendly portrayal: seated, hands resting calmly on his lap. On his face beams a mysterious smile worthy of La Gioconda. Perhaps he knows something very bad about David Davis that his tormentor is unaware of. And his portrait has shrunk in size from half a page to less than a third. At this rate, IDS will disappear altogether some time in late 2004, the quiet man becoming the invisible man.

When Tony Blair pays his customary Christmas visit to the troops in Ulster, it will round off his most peripatetic year so far. He has been to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Oman, Afghanistan, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Calgary, Washington, Texas, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Moscow, Paris, Warsaw, Prague, Sweden, Switzerland, and sundry other spots. You cannot say that he is not willing to go the extra mile for . . . well, for the right headline. The cost runs into millions. Yet the world does not seem a noticeably more peaceable or socially just place to live. Perhaps the National Audit Office should get out its slide rule, as it will do for any settlement of the firefighters' dispute. Even the Westminster lobby, normally avid for foreign travel, is wearying. On Blair's day trip to the Polish capital, only two correspondents went with him. And one of them missed the outbound plane.

In the gilded surrounds of the Atrium, a smart eatery in the Millbank block that accommodates the BBC, ITV and Sky political operations, First Lawyer Cherie Booth and her minder Fiona Millar arrive ostentatiously early to say farewell to Jo Andrews of ITN, who is off to a job with the ultra-rich Rausing Trust foundation. Cherie talked to Trevor Kavanagh, political editor of new Labour's house journal, the Sun, shooing away my colleague Charlie Whelan with a curt "Not in front of him!" Alastair Campbell was also there, soliciting money for a charity marathon he is about to run. Put me down for £50, comrade.

Belatedly, I hear Cherie complained to the Lancashire constabulary about an infringement of her privacy at Labour's conference in Blackpool. It seems a policeman had the temerity to peer into her limo as it swept in to the Imperial Hotel drive. Perhaps she should invest in one of those Soviet-built Zil motors, with curtains and darkened windows.

Stuart Bell MP has written another novel, Binkie's Revolution (the first in a trilogy), which chronicles the lives and loves of several families, beginning in Durham mining villages around 1900 and ending (two novels hence) in the election of the first president of the United States of Europe. The style is so fluent and racy it carries the reader along. We know this to be true, because the author says so in a five-page handout that also explains how to order the book from his publishing arm, Spen View Publications. It's being a Church Estates Commissioner that 'as made 'im so 'umble.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror