The insider - Paul Routledge hears MPs doubting Blunkett

MPs ask if Blunkett's up to the job, those Bristol flats again, and the price of Ali C

The talk among Labour MPs is about David Blunkett and whether or not he is overextended. The question is rhetorical. They think he is. His overall grasp of jails, antisocial behaviour, terrorism, cannabis, drugs in schools, immigration, asylum-seekers, prisons, crime, etc is just not sufficient. "It is probably too much for one minister anyway," remarks a junior member of the government. "And that's making allowances for his blindness." "He can't delegate," said a seditious backbencher. "He has his fingers in too many pies." The answer may be to split up the Home Office and make Blunkett minister of the interior, a role for which he is supremely fitted.

An interesting revelation in the latest Register of Members' Interests at Westminster. Under "land and property", Tony Blair registers "two flats in Bristol for which rental income may be received". This entry suggests that Cherie Blair is not - as was first suggested - the sole owner of the £355,000 properties, bought from the Blairs' "blind trust". Doesn't the PM have some explaining to do?

An excursion to the Highlands during the recess reveals that my fellow NS columnist Charlie Whelan has acquired a new bitch, a 16-week-old black Labrador, named Rosa (after Luxemburg, naturally). Difficult to imagine the Chancellor's former spin-doctor lolloping round his garden and pleading with a puppy to perform its natural functions, I know, but he does - occasionally in a long tartan nightgown.

His first idea for the hound's name - Sylvia (as in Pankhurst) - was summarily rejected by his partner, who is still battling the Lords to secure approval for a statue of the great feminist on College Green. Lord Brabazon of Tara, the not-very-bookish chairman of some fancy committee, has reiterated peers' rejection of the proposal. "If the Lords wanted a statue, we would invite proposals from several sources," the 3rd Baron harrumphed, adding in tones of ringing insincerity: "The committee does not dispute that Sylvia Pankhurst is worthy of memorial." Just not here, old boy. The fight now goes back to the Commons, where MPs on Tony Banks's works of art committee back the project.

The cruel indifference that Alastair Campbell's one-man show has met in some British cities is greatly to be deplored (as the Guardian would say). But at least Ali has something to fall back on, apart from his pension and a possible £500,000 book deal. I hear his agents charge £24,000 for a big appearance. So for an hour's public barking he gets about the same as a firefighter earns in a year.

But questions are being asked about who paid for the hire of the Foreign Press Association's headquarters for Ali's post-Hutton rant. Downing Street pays for the privilege of holding its morning lobby briefings at the splendid Carlton House Terrace building. Did No 10 also pay for Campbell's contumely? Or did he get the grand staircase of contempt for nothing? Perhaps we should be told.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

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