Paul Routledge

Tony Blair was so worried that Nick Jones's revelatory Sultans of Spin might upset him that he dispatched a minion to Politico's bookshop to buy a copy as soon as stocks arrived. Well, a janissary perhaps, in the shape of Philip Bassett, a leading figure in the Downing Street Strategic Communications Unit.

Bassett, husband of the Foreign Office minister Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, confided to lain Dale, Politico's owner (and a former Tory lobbyist), that it was his dismal task to read the book over the weekend. There would then be "an executive decision" as to whether anyone from No 10 would attend the launch party. How pompous can you get?

In the event, no one attended, so Dame Bassett (as he is known among former colleagues in the industrial correspondents' mafia) must have disapproved. This is odd, since Jones, political correspondent of the BBC, and not normally known for sycophancy, concludes that Alastair Campbell might be foul-mouthed, sneering and manipulative, but he is nonetheless "an ideal public spokesman". As the late John Junor would have said, pass the sickbag, Alice.

Much fun in the bars at Westminster on the night new Labour ducked a Commons vote on Alistair Darling's welfare reforms. Rebel Labour MPs swapped notes about their experiences with the whips. One backbencher, who had travelled many miles to vote against his government, chortled that after a weekend of intensive pressure down the phone, he was offered a very serious concession. "You can have a one-to-one with Keith Bradley!" said the panicky whip. "He can see you right away!"

Keith who? He turns out to be a former director of the Manchester Ship Canal, who these days is a minister at the Department for Social Security. Not even this blandishment succeeded.

I opened up a small book on the outcome. Interestingly, MPs forecast between 60 and 70 rebels, while lobby correspondents who had been talking to the whips went for 30 to 40. Sceptics like me bet on the lowest possible figure.

The fight for the late Derek Fatchett's plum constituency, Leeds Central, is on. Young hopefuls are pouring off the M1 in droves, including John Prescott's former adviser, Simon Buckby, now public policy correspondent of the Financial Times. He is pushing a manifesto through the doors of local folk and it has an address in nearby Bradford. This is actually the home of his girlfriend Gloria's parents. Buckby himself lives in the well-known Yorkshire city of Battersea, though he did go to Leeds University. "I had to have an address locally," he explains, "so the regional party can contact me - though they haven't been very communicative."

Not surprising, really, since half of them seem bent on winning the nomination themselves. My money's on Hilary Benn, Tony's son and a special adviser to David Blunkett.

Congratulations to John Reid on becoming Scottish Secretary. Unless you count Mandy, the disgraced former trade secretary, Reid becomes, I think, the first member of Britain's biggest political party - the ex-Communist Party - to join Tony Blair's cabinet. It is a long and honourable tradition, most prominently so in the case of Denis Healey.

A new Tory farce. The deputy speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst, Conservative MP for Saffron Walden, has written a comic novel titled Occasionally Cricket. The story revolves around Outcasts CC, a team from London who play rural villages. It promises to be "a cricketing farce which never breaks the boundaries of credibility". Haselhurst, who always struck me as a bit strait-laced, threatens action on and off the field. So is this the start of a new sex 'n' cricket genre? Passion over the tea and cucumber sandwiches, perhaps? "Oh no," he reassures me. "There'll be no Edwina Currie stuff."

Just as well, considering the trouble she got into with Madam Speaker over her steamy Commons blockbusters.

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

This article first appeared in the 24 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Luvvies, stop moaning