The insider - Paul Routledge reveals Blair's latest biographer

MPs left leaderless, Blair lines up his place in history, and Charlie's untartan choice

Field Marshal Blair is in so much of a hurry to reach Baghdad that he seems to have forgotten he has no Leader of the Commons. Ten days after Robin Cook's resignation, Labour whips were still mulling over a successor. There was talk of bringing back Margaret Beckett, or Ann Taylor, though that would be a snub to members of the security and intelligence committee on whom she was imposed as chairman after the election. It was even suggested that "junket" Jack Cunningham could be drafted in. No thought seems to have been given to promoting Cookie's self-preening deputy, Ben Bradshaw, once the pin-up boy of Radio Exeter. Meanwhile, Throbbin' Robin, evicted from his palatial suite at Westminster, is obliged to doss down in Commons offices with Lorna Fitzsimons (Cheeky Sprite, North), who famously promised more sex to the electors if they voted Labour.

Why is Peter Stothard, former editor of the Times, travelling with the PM to all his overseas summits? He has been given the unenviable job, I hear, of writing the official book on Tony Blair's place in history. The assignment was agreed shortly before war began. Unlike Charles Moore's similar project on Margaret Thatcher, Stothard's book will be published within its subject's lifetime. Plainly, the Great Helmsman does not want to leave the plaudits to posterity.

Wartime gloom spreads through Westminster. The Speaker, Michael Martin, cancelled his annual bash for the lobby, and killjoy Black Rod has ordered a 9pm curfew on the reopened Sports and Social Club. The Strangers' Bar is like a morgue, and only the click of pool table balls keeps Annie's in business.

There is no pleasing some folk. Charles Kennedy came to lunch in the Press Gallery, and the chefs offered a tartan menu. For starters, a mini-haggis; Charlie had the melon, perhaps hoping for a swift port. Main course, halibut, freshly caught by Scottish trawlermen; Charlie had the steak. And to finish, a mildly astringent rhubarb and yoghurt fool, with Edinburgh shortbread; Charlie called for the cheeseboard.

The failings of a Labour government that has been in office six years "now outweigh the modest improvements made". Bob Crow? Andy Gilchrist? No - Jim Mortimer, former general secretary of the Labour Party (1982-85), writing in the Islip Political Newsletter. For good measure, he finds Tony Blair's "morality" claim for US aggression is "nothing short of repulsive". Mortimer urges the unions to dump new Labour.

Bowler-hatted Ulster Unionists in Belfast spotted a hoarding with the message: Bush to attack Iraq. "About time, too!" observed Most'r Sash. "But what does the 'Q' stand for?"

With membership haemorrhaging during Blair's war, the Labour Party has chosen an inopportune moment to launch a platinum credit card. In a letter to the faithful, the general secretary, David Triesman, describes it as "a powerful new fundraiser" that will generate money to fight future elections - although the last one hasn't been paid for yet. Alas, to qualify for this "great opportunity", members must have an income of at least £25,000 a year, ruling out the firefighters and most other public service workers who form the backbone of the party.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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