The insider - Paul Routledge hears talk of a Byers comeback

Talk of a Byers comeback, Gladstone's model for Tony, and Labour's Brent East winner

The death of Lord Williams, Leader of the Lords, has triggered speculation about who will take over. Amazingly, Jack Cunningham, Blair's favourite wise uncle, has been tipped. Alas, new Labour cannot afford another by-election defeat in a party heartland, so Junket Jack will have to rattle his gold chains on the back benches for some time to come. Lord Robertson could return in splendour from Nato, but Lord McIntosh, the faithful spear-carrier, has the best claim. The Baronesses Scotland and Symons are also in the frame. With Geoff Hoon also for the off, folksy "Steve" Byers is mentioned as a new defence secretary, if only to bolster the desperately thin ranks of Blairites around the cabinet table. An early return of Alan Milburn is unlikely. He has not yet spent enough time with his family.

As predicted here, the Queen's Speech will be unusually late - 26 November. The delay has compelled the whips to bring MPs back for one day in Christmas week. Scots (ie, Labour) MPs are furious. Expect many of them to succumb to Caledonian flu.

Peter Hain may have given John Kampfner a good interview (see page 34) but he turned in an unusually underwhelming appearance at the Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch, fending off my questions about his leadership ambitions. Hain is clearly settling in for a long run as Leader of the Commons, taking the MPs of his modernisation committee on a national roadshow. Later on, he did point out that "Gladstone spent the period between August and the New Year wandering the Tuscan hills and translating Homer". I am happy to pass on that information to our present PM.

Oh, the joys of the Lib Dem conference! The top brass do not know how many delegates there are in Brighton. And the assembled peers - Razzall, McNally et al - did not know when the Liberals were last Her Majesty's Opposition. The answer is 1922. Don Foster, the transport spokesman, has drawn the ace of spades in the Lib Dem pack of cards put out by Bob Russell, the spokesman for sport. "That makes me Saddam Hussein," Foster tells anyone who will listen. "But I am leader of the Bath party."

Roy Hattersley scowled when the men in boiler suits told him he was number two on the dream ticket for the Labour leadership in the mid-1980s. "Do you mean to say that I am going to have to play second fiddle to a red-haired Welsh windbag? Do you know that I could be deputy editor of the Observer on £40,000 a year?" This story is from Hammer of the Left, the posthumously published memoirs of John Golding, edited by his successor as MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly. Hattersley's newspaper earnings are now very much greater, thanks in no small part to his years as second fiddle.

After the Brent East disaster, a minister commiserated with Eric Forth, the shadow leader of the House, on the Tories' junk performance. "I don't give a fuck," said IDS's least flattering frontbencher. My by-election sweepstake in the Strangers' Bar got 50 bidders within an hour. The winner was the accurate, if mildly disloyal, Tony McWalter, Labour MP for Hemel Hempstead, who got within 50 votes of the result.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

Next Article