The insider - Paul Routledge on ravishing the fisheries minister

Maude tipped for Tory chair, Kinnock for the Lords, and the ravishing of the fisheries minister

Michael Howard had to get the job, otherwise he might have called in the fuzz. His constituency agent in Folkestone has dragged the police into politics not once but twice. The first occasion was over the election for a town council seat in Hythe, and the second was after the general election in 2001. After a long police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service decided to take no action in either case. Nor was the former home secretary charged with wasting police time, as the local Liberal Democrats had urged. Kennedy's heroes have been making gains on Shepway district council, and Howard's constituency is top of the party's hit list.

The tone of Howard's "acceptance" speech at the Saatchi Gallery clearly had something to do with his rapprochement with Francis Maude, the job-hungry standard-bearer of the Portillistas. Maude was in touch with Howard throughout the plotting period and inspired the theme of leading from the centre. The former shadow foreign secretary is certain to get a post, perhaps party chairman. He will then be able to wrap up his modernising pressure group, called Cchange, its task being complete.

One title that looks ancient but only came in with IDS is bound for the scrapheap. As befits a Rupert (a captain in the Guards), the Tory leader kitted himself out with an aide-de-camp. In the brave new Conservative world, Howard will not be short of camp, but he may be relied upon to shun aides.

Surprisingly, the great leader speaks to his once-despised predecessor Neil Kinnock by phone on a regular basis. According to Westminster blether, Blair is minded to bring Kinnock back as Lord Windbag when his term as European commissioner expires next year. There is even talk of him replacing the underwhelming Lady Amos as leader of the Upper House, if he can get by on £97,000 a year - not much more than half his Brussels salary.

Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for the Environment and Everything Else, convulsed the Parliamentary Labour Party with her prediction for the festive season. "While you lot are eating turkey and mince pies, my fisheries minister, Ben Bradshaw, will be in Brussels at Christmas being ravaged by fishermen," she said to hoots of laughter. Some MPs thought she had slipped up, which is an even better joke.

Robin Cook is to be the Christmas dinner guest speaker of the Newcastle East and Wallsend Labour Party, sole prop Nick Brown. He follows Gordon Brown, who was last year's guest. "This year, in view of their history, I thought I'd give Robin the right of reply," says Nick Brown, well-known as a Gordon ally. "However, it might indicate that their much-hyped reconciliation after 20 years of rivalry could actually be true." Rivalry is a bit of an understatement.

Why do Labour MPs shout "sheep starver!" at the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Quentin Davies? Evidently, it has something to do with going on holiday and forgetting to feed his stock. Far worse, I should think, is the liberal dose of hair dye he must use to keep his dwindling locks a glossy black. Not that he is likely to grace the front bench much longer. Hardline Ulster Unionists see the first Howard reshuffle as a chance to get rid of Questin' Quentin.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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