Paul Routledge reveals a Charles Clarke gaffe

A mysterious statement by Bat Ears, too much whining in Glasgow, and trouble in the bars

Assuming, one supposes, that he would not be reported, Charles Clarke told an audience of students in Norwich that he would resign as Education Secretary if Britain goes to war without the express authority of a second UN resolution. As ever, it is difficult to work out quite what His Bat-Eared Grumpiness means. Is this a deeply covert bid for the leadership? The same question was asked in Glasgow, after Gordon Brown urged support for Blair. The Chancellor told a Scottish interviewer: "Nobody should doubt that we are united in a determined way." For good measure, he added: "I am the third way." Third way, or third man?

Alastair Campbell expressly forbade Education Department spin-doctors from leaking the teachers' measly pay award to papers such as the Times Educational Supplement, because he intended to leak it to the Sun, not a title known for its mass pedagogic readership. And so he did. He is now looking for a new education chief-spinner, salary £95,000 a year. Could this vacancy be connected to the sudden departure from the Sunday Times of Chris Boffey, special adviser to Estelle Morris until she found she wasn't up to the job? Similar doubts do not afflict lighthouse-sized Boffey.

To Glasgow, for Labour's spring gathering at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, by common consent the worst of its kind - styled on the Sydney Opera House but a Cretan labyrinth inside. Practically all the bars are closed, and the monstrosity is ringed with heavily armed police. It feels more like Pyongyang than No Mean City. Blair entered via the side door of the Moat House Hotel, with an entourage that grows exponentially as war nears. Party chiefs, worried about the prospect of a noisy revolt, set up three "comfort sessions" to explain the reasons for war to disbelieving delegates. Things went badly wrong when the bull-necked armed forces minister Lewis Moonie accused doubters who want a second UN resolution of "whining".

Blair never mentioned new Labour, or George Bush, or the US, in his speech, the entire second half of which, on domestic issues, was ditched in favour of a sermon of the kind with which we are now only too familiar. John Reid, the party chairman (and emphatically not the fucking Wizard of Oz), had "socialist" in his prepared text, but unaccountably failed to speak the word.

Suggestions that the public might be allowed to use the bars and restaurants at Westminster, after a dramatic fall-off in use caused by the MPs' new working week, have been greeted with alarm by Commons staff. But receipts are down by 40 per cent, and if thirsty Labour MPs cannot be held back from the 8pm curry house gallop, something must be done. Security has been quoted as an obstacle to hoi polloi enjoying subsidised food and wine, but one MP in the Strangers' Bar put the real argument. "I cannot," he said, "see Gerald Kaufman coming in here and quietly accepting that he cannot get a drink because the place is full of gawping trippers."

An Anglo-Irish meeting of politicians and academics in Oxford recently was largely accommodated in Spartan student rooms. Happy, then, the Dublin minister who told fellow participants that he was staying at the Randolph, "a hotel so posh that I can't shut my suitcase because the towels are so thick".

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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