The insider - Paul Routledge sniffs out a Robin Cook plot

Cook's mysterious meetings, no tea for the cronies, and a striker stricken in Rome. Paul Routledge r

Robin Cook is up to his old political tricks. But to what end? Fresh from his triumph in "modernising" the Commons, which increased his popularity ratings in the Parliamentary Labour Party, the Leader of the House has arranged discreet meetings with Mick Rix, the Aslef leader, and Derek Simpson, the new boss of the engineering union Amicus-AEEU, both of them left-wingers. Similar talks are in train elsewhere. Intriguing, in both senses of the word. Is Cock Robin pondering a post-Blair future, as a contender for the leadership against his one-time ally Gordon Brown? If so, he would need the unions just as much as the back-bench MPs, to whose desire to spend the minimum possible time at Westminster he so skilfully pandered.

Moves to admit Tony's cronies in the House of Lords to the Commons Tea Room have been vetoed. Ministers who were once MPs, such as Lord Grocott, Labour's chief whip in the upper house, are already permitted into this holy of holies. There were suggestions that other ministerial peers, such as Lord Falconer, Lady Symons, Baroness Scotland and Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, should be allowed in. MPs, particularly the Tory 1922 Committee, will have none of it.

The twice-disgraced ex-minister Peter Mandelson may be rueing the day he wrote Cherie Blair's mea (not very) culpa over the blind-trust affair, but that is no excuse for trying to ban the First Lady's biographer from the airwaves. While an expectant nation waited 40 minutes for the Mandy-inspired sob story, Linda McDougall filled in live on Sky TV. An incensed Mandelson demanded that she should not be used again.

Bob Crow, leader of the RMT and strikers' friend, headed a union delegation, courtesy of rail bosses, out to Italy to examine the working of a new signalling system. All very agreeable until, before the return flight from Rome airport, Baseball Hat Bob strode off to the duty free store to buy his goodies. His Italian may not be up to much, but even he understood the word "strike" on the locked door of the shop.

Roy Hattersley's obsession with all things Yorkshire is well known and perfectly understandable. However, the blurb on his biography of John Wesley wrongly places the great preacher's birthplace of Epworth in God's own county. It is in Lincolnshire, that most underrated of English counties.

Most respondents to my Xmas quiz could get the politicians right, but failed on the trick question, which was the surname of Charles Alexander James. Not Kennedy, the Lib Dem leader; he is Charles Peter. Nor is it Clarke, the Education Secretary; Bat Ears is Charles Rodway. The correct answer is Whelan, my fellow NS columnist and sometime government spin-doctor.

The full list reads: James Gordon Brown; Harold Adrian Russell Philby; Victor Grayson Hardie Feather; Norman Beresford Tebbit; Lev Davidovich Trotsky (Bronstein was also acceptable) ; Ian Richard Kyle Paisley; Denis Winston Healey; Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi; Charles Alexander James Whelan; Hugh Todd Naylor Gaitskell. With some embarrassment, I have to report that the first (indeed, only) correct entry came from John Rentoul, hagiographer of Tony Blair, to whom a £20 book token is on its way.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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