Downing Street has signalled Tony Blair's refreshed interest in immigration matters with yet another hands-on initiative. A Home Office trusty tells me that, much to his irritation, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, often first hears about important developments concerning his own department on the BBC 6am news.
Let's set up a new parliamentary award: the Pankhurst Prize for the Promotion and Encouragement of Women at Westminster. Step forward David Blunkett. His record on female ministers far outstrips that of his cabinet colleagues. Since 1997, Estelle Morris, Tessa Jowell, Margaret Hodge, Tessa Blackstone and Jacqui Smith have all been protegees of his, in addition to the self-styled "monstrous regiment" of Beverley Hughes (until her resignation), Patricia Scotland, Hazel Blears, Fiona Mactaggart and Caroline Flint . . .
Well done, David.
A group of veteran Westminster worthies - Marion Roe, Julian Brazier, Neil Turner and Tom Cox - along with my husband, Austin Mitchell, have just returned from a fact-finding trip to the Caribbean. They've been visiting the frigate HMS Monmouth, out in the Caribbean on a drug-busting raid.
Austin reappeared with a peeling nose, a pile of dirty washing and a brand new interest in the cost of our food. "How much is an avocado, Linda?" The 180 Royal Navy personnel on board Monmouth are fed three meals for £2.05 per person per day. There was no extra allowance for the five visiting MPs, who got fed in return for help with the chores. Austin, who has never lifted a wooden spoon in three decades at Westminster, let alone boiled an egg, boasts that he cooked "delicious broccoli and spaghetti soup". What really shocked the MPs were the arrangements made for Casper, a sniffer dog on attachment to Monmouth from his base in Northern Ireland. Casper had an allowance of £3 per day for his food, and he was not expected to share it with anyone.
Like many women, I have always regarded Alastair Campbell as the sexiest man around Westminster. Since his departure there has been little opportunity to miss him, as he appears in the papers and on television more often than ever. His recent TV appearance on Parkinson showing his skill on the bagpipes was a show-stopper. A minister once confided that when he got his longed-for appointment to the government, it was Campbell and not Tony Blair who told him the good news. So now I admire the spin-doctor for also being "the real Deputy Prime Minister".
Yet it seems his fan club is a limited one. On Sunday, I drove a group of Millwall fans to their FA Cup semi-final match in Manchester, where they triumphed over Sunderland. Recently, Campbell had accused Millwall fans of racism when they abused one of his beloved Burnley players.
"That Alastair Campbell," said one fan, "we hate him."
"Well, did you have a go at him?" I inquired gently.
"Of course we did. But it wasn't because he was black, it was because he fouled one of our players last time round."
Then another fan chipped in with a hint of menace: "When Campbell visits the Den [Millwall's home ground] he's always in the directors' box, drinking. He couldn't have heard what we said about anything or anybody."
Perhaps Alastair should skip this year's Cup Final in Cardiff.