The insider - Paul Routledge on kisses, hugs and leadership hopes

Sir Mark orders stationery, a kiss for Lord Levy, and a hug for Gordon Brown

When Mark Thatcher flew back after the death of his father, Denis, he showed a less-than-reverential eagerness for his hereditary title. Practically his first act was to order "Sir Mark" stationery from Smythson's of Bond Street. But why is he spending so much time in Zimbabwe? And what's all this stuff about diesel engine contracts? I can't believe Sir Mark is in bed - commercially speaking - with Mugabe.

Sir Denis died before the final stages of shooting for a Channel 4 biopic. The producer, Linda McDougall, had arranged a last "Dear Bill" supper with Bill Deedes at the Savoy Grill. Not that McDougall, biographer of Cherie Blair, is likely to offer a hagiography. Thatcher was a great deal less pleasant in private than his "haw-haw" public persona.

Air-kissing is a concept foreign to this column. But I can quite believe my contact who says that Lady (Sally) Morgan, Downing Street fixer, and Lord Levy, No 10's money-grinder, were caught in this faux-amorous exchange in the street.

The Tories are anxious about Iraq. Not about the state of that country, but about the possible loss of up to ten MPs in the army reserves. Desmond Swayne, a major in the Territorial Army when not MP for New Forest West, is already there, and may not be home before Christmas. In the parliamentary platoon are Patrick Mercer (2nd Lieutenant, Sherwood Foresters); the Sandhurst-educated Hugo Swire; Mark Francois, a whip, and Julian Brazier, both TA; and Andrew Robathan, a former Guards officer. We may assume that Captain Iain Duncan Smith (Scots Guards) will not be drafted. Labour needs him on the home front.

Lobby hacks hate the daily trek from Westminster to the Carlton House Terrace office of the Foreign Press Association, where the daily Downing Street briefings are now held. So they smirked mightily when, during Vladimir Putin's state visit, No 10's spin-doctors were ordered to make a mile-long detour round Whitehall by a copper who refused to let them into the security zone. "But we work for the Prime Minister, in his office!" they wailed. To no avail.

Gordon Brown held a party at his North Queensferry home to celebrate 20 years as MP for Dunfermline East. Prudence was there, in the shape of a marquee hired from the local Scout troop, complete with dyb-dob emblems. The Sun had a pic of Brown hugging the NS's Charlie Whelan, with a caption saying the two had "mended the split". What split?

Michael Howard has cancelled a lunch with the Press Gallery on 10 July, amid fresh speculation at Westminster of a challenge to IDS. Presumably Howard, who still harbours leadership ambitions, does not want to answer questions on the issue. His place will be taken by the loud-shirted Eric Forth, shadow leader of the House, who can scarcely be so shy. Not after his finger-twirling-to-the-temples assessment of IDS on the front bench during Prime Minister's Questions.

It cannot go much deeper than this. Stephen Murray, son of Lord (Len) Murray, the former TUC general secretary, has quit Labour over the lies about Iraq. He served more than 20 years as a councillor and was four times a parliamentary candidate in Essex. This is the most dispiriting news of the summer.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

Next Article