The insider - Paul Routledge sees old slappers in parliament

The PM's bad language, the Beeb's new awards, and the slappers in parliament

With Gordon Brown's seventh Budget due, Downing Street is busy dishing the dirt on the Chancellor. Mary Ann Sieghart, Blairite spokeschild on the Times, "disclosed" that Brown invited his former room-mate to the Treasury to discuss matters financial, but was met with a curt: "No, you come over here. I'm the fucking Prime Minister." The Chancellor's people deny the story and his ex-spin-doctor Charlie Whelan, who should know, says Brown always goes to the PM's office anyway. So who spun to Sieghart? "Obviously, somebody low down the food chain," observed a veteran at Westminster, ruling out Alastair Campbell. Not so sure myself.

Blair is known to swear, but not on the scale of John Major, who promised to "fucking crucify" cabinet rebels. Perhaps he is taking lessons from his party chairman, Dr John ("I'm not the fucking Wizard of Oz") Reid.

No 10's dirty tricks campaign to stuff Robin Cook continues. Middle-ranking ministers have discreetly handed out to political correspondents little slips of paper with the date and Hansard column reference number for speeches made by the former foreign secretary when he was still on board with the campaign to subjugate Iraq.

BBC bosses are pouring licence-payers' money into new political prizes, in what is essentially a filch of the Channel 4 awards. The winners will be largely chosen by a ballot of MPs and peers. Greg Dyke has ordered a two-tier system of invitations for a lavish dinner at the Gladstone Library banqueting suite in Whitehall. Only if "tranche one" people such as ministers and front-bench spokesmen refuse will the Beeb invite backbenchers and other riff-raff.

What was Lord (Bill) Jordan doing at a secret "MSF for Labour" conference, said to have been attended by about 60 people somewhere in the Midlands? He is long gone to Europe from the AEEU engineering union, now merged with MSF into Amicus. But so reduced are the moderates that they had to go back into history for a rallying speaker. I suspect the gathering had little to do with Labour and more to do with sustaining in office Roger "The Rug" Lyons, joint general secretary of Amicus, who in earlier years had the disconcerting habit of wearing a toupee on some days, but not others.

I am indebted to Philip Cowley, lecturer in politics at Nottingham University, for a paper showing that, even before Iraq, the parliamentary session of 2001-2002 was the most rebellious first session of any Labour government: 76 uprisings, involving 122 MPs in all, exactly the same number as the initial revolt against the war. MPs who rebel find it is much easier to do so again. "Rebelling for the first time is a bit like losing your virginity," Cowley writes, "although the comparison is not perfect . . . because each division in the House takes between 12 and 15 minutes." Now, adds Cowley, we have a parliamentary party of "old slappers". As my great mentor Alan Watkins would say: quite so, quite so.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

Next Article