The insider - Paul Routledge finds Blair sweating in Ankara
Hilary schemes against Brown, Blair sweats in Ankara, and a gallant Tory eyes a gong
Just how did all this damaging hype about Tony v Gordon emerge, MPs are asking. Brown's spinners are noisily discounting their man, and not even Tom Kelly, the PM's spokesman, would be stupid or presumptuous enough to set the dogs of rumour loose. I hear that MPs need look no further than the Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong, who is so determined to find a "stop Gordon" candidate that enthusiasm has got the better of discretion. Hence the stories insisting that Blair will go on and on. Or that he has told "close associates" he will stand down only if he believes he is an electoral liability. Which is never.
Armstrong's involvement is also being linked to John Reid (another Blairite fanatic) through her husband, Paul Corrigan, who is special adviser to the Health Secretary. Corrigan, a Sixties sociology lecturer, dreamed up foundation hospitals, so he should be just about the right chap to split Labour down the middle when the leadership struggle actually begins.
Blair's day trip to Ankara started badly, and fell away. He was force-fed Turkish delight by the prime minister, endured the eminent solitude of a top table all by himself, and was forced to sit on the tarmac for an hour in a plane without air-conditioning in stupefying heat. "This is a John Major moment," muttered one of the lobby hacks on the plane. "Shots of him hoofing back to the terminal will finish him off." In the event, only the chilled Graves suffered.
Rebellion takes many forms, happily. The latest battleground is north-west England, where Labour MPs are refusing to be dragooned into the fashionable campaign for a regional assembly. Opponents include ex-ministers such as George Howarth, Gwyneth Dunwoody and Frank Field. In the October referendum on whether the assembly should be set up, several Labour MPs are likely to join the "no" campaign being run by Sir David Trippier, a Lancashire former Tory MP. The "yes" campaign is led by Tony Wilson, a Granada TV celebrity also known for founding the Hacienda nightclub. But Wilson's girlfriend, an admirer of the Tory MP Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley), supports the "no" campaign. And they said national government was complicated.
I am indebted to Paul Murdoch, of Doncaster, for the information that a Labour candidate in next month's council elections has welcomed, in his manifesto, the introduction of "0mph zones" for traffic. Perhaps Blair has abolished gears altogether.
How to praise Colonel Michael Mates? Despite Michael Howard's disapproval, he refuses to walk out of the Butler inquiry into the handling of Iraq intelligence. Will a grateful Labour PM offer a peerage or some other gong to the Tory ex-minister? We should expect no less for a brave MP of the officer class whose gallantry towards wives of the regiment excites such regretful admiration in Tory leadership circles.
Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror