The insider - Paul Routledge must not write contentious copy

The all-purpose niece, a dog's sad fate, and why I should not write contentious copy

Ministers, in their enthusiasm for university top-up fees, have invented a corporate niece. Ann Cryer, the rebel MP for Keighley, was approached by a member of the government rhapsodising about "the marvellous deal my student niece will get". Five minutes later, another minister enthused about the wonderful deal his niece would get. Niece work if you can get it. Meanwhile, after Tony Blair addressed the Parliamentary Labour Party rally, the one-time rebel Diana Organ (Pusillanimity South) was literally pushed forward to waiting hacks so that she could announce her evangelical conversion to student debt.

Pass the sick bag, please. Within days of bringing Ken Livingstone back into the fold, the London Labour Party has sent out a political celebrity endorsement for the mayor's "trigger" ballot, in which members can vote for Ken or nothing. Lord (Swraj) Paul, Tessa Jowell, Chris Smith, Karen Buck and Diane Abbott gush compliments. Sample from Jowell: "He has shown his political maturity and willingness to move beyond the politics of gesture to the substance of changing people's lives for the better."

Stories abound on the exotic style of Tam Dalyell, Father of the House, who is retiring at the next election. My favourite is his remark to a journalist: "Don't ring me after nine in the evening - unless it's about foreign policy."

To Smith Square for Margaret Beckett's drinks party at Defra, which happily clashes with David Blunkett's bash at the Home Office, thereby obviating the need to gatecrash his solemn event. The food, an array of British produce plus domestic wines, beers and spirits, is infinitely superior to that at the Home Office, and put to better use. As far as I can recollect. At a memorable Blunkers "do", his guide dog was sick over his shoes. "Oh dear, I do hope nobody has been feeding him solids," said the Sheffield sage. "He has a hiatus hernia." The hack who had just fed him two lamb chops slipped furtively away. The dog died soon afterwards.

So kind of Gavyn Davies, chairman of the BBC, to warn me personally, in writing, that I should not write "contentious" copy for the press. He must think my infrequent appearances on the Beeb amount to "regular freelance".

Of the six constituencies in Yorkshire where the MP is retiring, four have been decreed all-women shortlists, in breach of undertakings that they would be open to both sexes if the departing members hung up their swords in good time. Only Normanton and Dewsbury are open to the brothers. In Normanton, my native heath, the seat is being kept warm for the Chancellor's economics adviser, Ed Balls, the partner of Yvette Cooper, who occupies adjoining Pontefract and Castleford. Dewsbury has been spared from the sisters for a quite different reason. It has been earmarked for a Muslim candidate, leader of Kirklees council and, of course, a man.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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