The insider - Paul Routledge hears rumours of an early election

Rumours of an early election, late news from central Europe, and the Bryan Gould mystery

Downing Street has been briefing the media on the state of the Great Helmsman's health in the distinctly unwholesome surroundings of the Press Gallery bar. The usual venue in the Westminster lobby's eyrie, as difficult to navigate as a Minoan labyrinth, has been declared out of bounds by the Serjeant at Arms, on the grounds that it is full of builders' rubbish from the summer recess.

Blair's spin-doctors are more bullish about his ticker than the real doctors. They denied he had ever been unconscious, insisting that he had merely been "sedated" while receiving treatment for an irregular heartbeat. Only later, when faced with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, did No 10 concede that the Prime Minister had been "heavily sedated" and out for the count.

So who was in charge while he was not with us? "The situation did not arise," harrumphed Godric Smith, Blair's spokesman. "He was sedated for only 20 minutes." Aides feared a stock-market crash if they admitted that John Prescott had his finger on the nuclear button.

Meanwhile, MPs are speculating that Alastair Campbell's departure last month might once have been intended as a double act of resignation with Blair. No wonder his heart missed a beat. Speculation is now rife that the PM will call an early election, possibly in October next year, just to win his third victory - and then leave the sinking ship to Gordon Brown.

Robin Cook's memoirs are replete with little nuggets. I like the story about Hungary applying for membership of Nato. The late Strom Thurmond, then the ninetysomething chairman of the US Senate armed forces committee, asked the minister from Budapest: "When I was at school Austria and Hungary were the same country. When did you split up?"

More intelligence from the leaky Daily Telegraph. Boris Johnson, creative Tory MP for Henley, is telling the truth that he was offered the editorship, but Dominic Lawson, who plainly fancied his chances, was brusquely passed over. This was too much. "Dominator" tried to insert in the company press release a sentence that he had not shown interest in the job, a move that was flatly rejected by management.

Political hacks booking their tickets for the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting - or Chogm - in Abuja, Nigeria, recollect that Maggie Thatcher could be just as racist as Denis when she tried. They remember her term for this gathering: "Coons' Holiday on Government Money".

It was wall-to wall-spooks at the D-Notice committee party for journalists at the Old Admiralty. Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, turned up, as did the head of GCHQ and senior figures from MI6 and MoD intelligence. The invitations sent out by Sir Kevin Tebbit, MoD permanent under-secretary, four days after David Kelly's suicide, asked editors to attend (none did) and to bring "one of your younger journalists, who is or may in the future be involved in reporting or editing national security matters". Plainly, the spooks like to catch 'em early. Tebbit spoke of "benefits accruing" from the reception last year. Now what did he mean by that?

After a long night in Westminster's Strangers' Bar, I can offer no further elucidation to the scribbled note "Bryan Gould - comeback".

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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