The insider - Paul Routledge reveals indecency in Reading

Dirty tricks and indecency in Reading, what the pagers said, and Jowell's persuasive skills

Labour MPs and ministers are so relieved about the Hutton report that they do not seem to understand that, come election time, the breakdown with the Lib Dems over the Butler inquiry could prove fatal. By banning his establishment-hungry frontbencher Alan Beith from taking part in Whitewash 2 - The Movie, Charlie Kennedy has left himself a clear run when the second verdict of not guilty is brought in by Tony Blair's hand-picked cronies. Naturally, Downing Street was at pains to point out that it always knew it would have to set up a second inquiry, and was only waiting for the PM to be cleared by Lord Whitewash. To silent hoots of derision, the more-or-less undisgraced spin-doctor Tom Kelly told the lobby: "The question about the Prime Minister's integrity has passed, and it is a better atmosphere to answer these questions [about WMDs] now."

The gulf of cynicism between the hacks and the politicians has never been greater.

Reading, a dull place enlivened only by the jailing of Oscar Wilde more than a century ago, is now the hotbed of new Labour controversy. Moves to deselect Jane Griffiths, MP for Reading East, have reached fever pitch. Her uncomradely neighbour Martin "the Assaulter" Salter MP has been parading Tony Page, a fortysomething lobbyist, round the Commons as the right man for the job. Page asked Janet Anderson, the former tourism minister, for a reference and was invited to mate elsewhere. Perhaps this has something to do with Page's record, including indecency and matters of a cottage nature, which have figured mightily on the local paper's front page. Even so, Page took more votes at a reselection meeting than Griffiths. The final decision is on 22 February.

Great thing, these pagers. But embarrassing. In the Strangers' Bar at 5.45pm on Tuesday, Labour MPs reached for their electronic tags, to be told about "lines to take" in the next day's Prime Minister's Questions on "training, economy, jobs, housing, the £ and Accident & Emergency". The idea that MPs need to be told these things is laughable. But at least we now know that PMQs is as total a fix as Downing Street can make it.

I was banned from Alastair Campbell's farewell bash on the terrace of the House of Lords (a hint, here?), so I cannot bring you a verbatim report of the unctuous proceedings. But as and when details surface from this gathering of the great and the bad, I will bring them to you.

Postscript to that vote on student fees. On the eve of the critical Commons division, the saintly Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, and her PPS Gordon Marsden took four rebels to dinner. Such was Jowell's ratiocinative skill that three of the four still joined the revolt. The odd one out? The lawyer Stephen Hesford (Pusillanimity West). Yet he came out of the meal moaning that Jowell had made him more inclined to vote against. What a hero. He will go far, but not very.

In their analysis of the division, the academics Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart noted that David Taylor (Doublethink North-West) voted for and against, in order to register an abstention. Without Tory votes, the government's majority would have been one. There was no deal (as had been rumoured) with the SDLP, whose four MPs voted against. Nineteen Labour MPs went missing, but not AWOL. The whips were particularly free with their exeats (for some) that night.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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