The Insider - Paul Routledge on the Howard and Davis gangs

Howard goes to the top, BNP trouble for the Tories, and sightings of early poppies

While swearing eternal fidelity to Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory plotters were hard at work. The Michael Howard camp was even in talks with the David Davis gang before the MPs met to consider the vote of no confidence. "Michael keeps upping the ante," complained one Davisite. The shadow chancellor has been discreetly punting his candidacy for some time, lunching newspaper editors rather than their oiks at Westminster. Davis has been strutting his stuff in the Members' Lobby, doughnutting himself with a gaggle of political correspondents. Meanwhile, some Tory MPs want a return to the "magic circle" machinery for choosing the leader. The guided democracy instituted by William Hague has proved just too much for the Nostalgic Tendency.

James Rubin, former spokesman to the US State Department, wowed the press gallery over a lunch of macerated Scottish salmon and braised lamb shank. He was scathing about the performance of the US intelligence agencies in the run-up to the Iraq war. "The whole system failed. The intelligence community overestimated the threat because of a fear of underestimating it, and they need to ask themselves some hard questions in Washington and here in Britain. The whole dossier was wrong." He calculated that the US would be in Iraq for "two years, more or less", until real political pressure is felt at home. Plainly, he intends to be part of that change as a member of a Democrat administration. "I hope I am nowhere in two years from now," he said, adding with classic American modesty: "I think the world hopes that, too." A pity the lunch was so sparsely attended, attracting fewer people than Peter Hain or even Charles Kennedy attracted.

As if Iain Duncan Smith hasn't enough on his plate, it now appears that his constituency agent, Rikki Radford, has an embarrassing acquaintance with the British National Party. At a London Borough of Redbridge by-election in April, Radford submitted his nomination form for the Tory candidate Keith Prince. One of the eight persons nominating was a Mr L Garrett. The election returning officer pointed out that Garrett had also nominated another candidate, Julian Leppert of the BNP. Garrett insisted that his son had signed the BNP nomination paper as a joke, but the signature (in my possession) looks the same. The Tories won easily, but plainly they are none too fussy. Leppert is the BNP candidate for London mayor.

Competitive poppy-wearing, noted in the NS last week by Patrick West, is very much in evidence at Westminster. Labour ministers keen to outdo the Tories in patriotism (of a certain kind) began sporting buttonholes almost a month before Remembrance Day. Conservatives were caught on the hop, perhaps fearing that a poppy might be construed as loyalty to IDS. First shameless exhibitionist? The Labour whip Fraser Kemp.

The scene is the Old Palace, Hatfield House, where the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body is holding its annual bash. The co-chairman, Brendan Smith TD, pointed out that the event takes place just a few miles up the road from the home of the famous Irishman G B Shaw, "who was . . . who was . . . who won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature".

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror