Three options are being canvassed among MPs for a solution to the First Problem, Tony Blair. After a weak performance on "super Thursday" (10 June), the Great Helmsman decides to spend more time on the US lecture circuit. This is regarded as unlikely, but not impossible. Alternatively, if his standing in the polls continues to deteriorate through the summer, the men in boiler suits - the Labour equivalent of the men in suits who traditionally despatch Conservative leaders - go to him in a body and tell him he must stand down. But who would have the nerve? It would, the theory runs, require MPs of the standing of Jack Cunningham and Gerald Kaufman to wield the knife, and John Prescott's support - or at least connivance - for the plot to succeed. There would then be a Gordon Brown coronation, over within a month, and preferably without a leadership election. This is a tall order, but the plotters point out that the third option, of Blair soldiering on through a third term, would be political suicide. They forget Labour's love of easeful death.
Meanwhile, the more pressing difficulty of what to do with Geoff Hoon looms larger by the day. It is being suggested that he and Peter Hain swap jobs, with "Buff" now Leader of the House and the pushy man from the principality moving to Defence. The beauty of this Hoon-for-Hain scheme is that it would fill Hain's hands with so much departmental responsibility that he would not have time to work on his plan to "come through the middle" as Blair's successor.
You have to hand it to the old Millies: they bear a good grudge. So, the Socialist Party veteran Ken Smith cannot resist a swipe at the transport minister Kim Howells in his book about the miners' strike, A Civil War Without Guns. In 1984, Smith was prominent in a miners' support group, while Howells (then a member of the Communist Party) was research officer for the National Union
of Mineworkers in South Wales. Howells,
he claims, sent pickets to Saltley, the coke depot in Birmingham which was the scene of Arthur Scargill's legendary victory in 1972, "only for them to discover it had been shut in 1982".
Michael Howard was underwhelming at his Press Gallery lunch the other day, but a bit more forthcoming in an interview in the giveaway Jewish News. Being Tory leader "excites me more at the moment than it has ever done, and that is saying something", he gushes. Then, rather spoiling the effect, he adds: "I doubt that I shall ever become bored of it, but who knows." (My italics.) He opposes Israel's policy of targeted assassinations as "counter-productive" and promises to introduce heimische chopped liver, a favourite delicacy, to the Downing Street dinner table. Heimische what? Is this a Llanelli confection?
The pompous, Arab-bashing Robert Kilroy-Silk is so full of himself that it was easy to gull him during his first few weeks as an MP. On his birthday, talking to other MPs on the Commons Terrace, Kilroy-Silk showed off a telegram of congratulations from the Queen, unaware of the guffaws that his self-advertisement produced. The cable was a hoax by fellow backbenchers, including Robin (now Lord) Corbett. K-S should read messages of support for his UK Independence Party Euro candidacy for East Midlands with great care.
Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror