The insider - Paul Routledge reveals a dark horse for PM

A dark horse for PM, Gisela keeps dubious company, and unisex lavatories for the hacks

Rehabilitation indeed! While the Brownites and the Strawists quarrel about who shall succeed Tony Blair, Stephen Byers is creeping up on the rails as the dark-horse candidate. The idea that he could become leader would have been unthinkable even a year ago, following his defenestration from the cabinet after the Jo Moore affair. But his discreet, hard-working absence from office has won fresh admirers in the ABB (Anybody But Brown) camp. MPs compare his steady climb back to favour with the pouting antics of Peter Mandelson when he was sacked.

Byers, the transport secretary who asked newspapers to call him "Steve", is back in the Downing Street fold, and is pulling ahead of his rival Geordie Alan Milburn, who resigned as health secretary to spend more time writing new Labour's election manifesto. To the dismay of his supporters in the parliamentary party, Milburn has just taken a £30,000-a-year job with a private health firm, an unwise step at this stage in the leadership shadow contest.

Much speculation at Westminster about the identity of Blair's feed-man who put out the story of the PM's projected 12-year reign. Whatever he said to John Kampfner (page 24), I have no hesitation in naming Charlie Falconer, the nation's First Flatmate. Staffers at No 10 said Tony was "incandescent". So he was. Not about the story, but about the cack-handed spin that accompanied its release to the Times, supine house journal of new Labour. The headline that he would go "on and on and on" was not what he had in mind.

Labour MP Gisela Stuart has accepted an invitation to speak to the Bruges Group, the hard-right Eurosceptic outfit chaired by Lord Lamont and numbering many Euroloonies among its adherents. Stuart, who sat on the EU constitution commission, will speak about "Where next?". Where indeed, for the maid from Munich. Do the whips know who she is sharing a platform with?

A statue to Barbara Castle is to be erected in Blackburn, her constituency for decades. She was born in Chesterfield, was brought up in Pontefract and Bradford, and never actually lived in Blackburn, where she is already commemorated by a ring road. But unspent money in the Barbara Castle Trust will probably be enough to pay for a £50,000 statue by Ian Walters, sculptor of Nelson Mandela and also of Harold Wilson, whose statue, outside Huddersfield Station, is at least in the town of his birth.

The Press Gallery accommodation at Westminster is to be revamped at a cost of untold millions. The changes will reduce the number of places to work, already too few to service the 300 hacks who have security clearance. But controversy focuses mainly on a plan to install unisex lavatories, to the amusement of the men and the consternation of the sisters. Where will the so-called lezzy lobby post notices of their lunch trysts with ministers from which men are banned?

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

Next Article