Paul Routledge

To Belfast, for the peace summit. No resemblance, naturally, to the upmarket EU versions at Cologne. The talks were in an ugly 1960s office block on Stormont estate, with a draughty marquee and trestle tables for the hacks. "You should have been here for the Good Friday summit," reflected a lobby veteran. "We only had a portable cabin." The suffering was relative, considering what the people of Ulster have had to put up with.

Most of the assembled media agreed. Tony Blair looked haggard, strained and absorbed. The task of pulling off a second miracle looked beyond him. This wasn't Kosovo, winning from a great height. It was short-sword stuff, with politicians whose admiration for new Labour is non-existent. The apprehension of defeat showed on Blair's face, despite Alastair Campbell's - strangely infrequent - attempts to talk up the prospects of a deal. But by the time you read this, it may be smiles all round.

To escape from the gloom of Stormont, I made for the excellent political studies section of the Linen Hall library, to do some research on Airey Neave, whose biography I am writing. This comprehensive collection of books, papers, cuttings and ephemera is housed in a high-security block off Donegal Square. And who did I miss by two minutes? Patrick Magee, the Brighton bomber. All Ireland is looking for him, while he is quietly writing a thesis on the fiction of the troubles.

Poor lambs. Around the time of William Hague's shadow cabinet reshuffle, Tory frontbenchers were offered counselling by the whips' office. This is a startling innovation. The whips are normally more akin to Oxonian bulldogs than social workers. The idea of them sitting down quietly to discuss the political future of party spokespeople - particularly the 1997 intake - is against nature. Perhaps it is a result of the whips' office being thrown open to women (there are two females in this once-hallowed male preserve) or of a new, caring Conservatism. Either way, don't expect the infection to spread to Ann Taylor's office. The Labour whips retain a healthy contempt for such namby-pambyism.

Watch out for sparks flying when Michael Brunson, the regal political editor of ITN, finally unveils his memoirs. He is determined to get to the bottom of Bastardgate, when I revealed in the Observer his conversation with John Major about the Tory prime minister's errant right-wing cabinet colleagues. He has also to settle a row over the title. He wants to call the book On Mike (geddit?), but his publisher wants something more . . . well, more in the gravitas line. For instance, Ringside Seat, with all its connotations of pugilism. Brunson, however, doesn't like being thought of as a bruiser.

Sometimes the educated are unfair. Lord Kennet, aka the writer Wayland Young, asked the government whether the name "Agricola" for Nato's operations in Kosovo was a reference to a phrase in Tacitus's Agricola: "They made a desert and called it peace", and, if so, who chose it. Replying for the MoD, Lord Burlison, who has had a bit of a come-down from being a baron in the GMB union (and the man who gave Hartlepool its MP, the disgraced ex-trade secretary), said the name was chosen "at random from a list of possible operation names".

A ragged, ironic cheer went round the BBC newsroom at Millbank studios when ITN reported the appointment of Greg Dyke. Beeb newsmen were forbidden to disclose the identity of their new boss, because it had not been officially announced. Indeed, your columnist on the spot heard a Birtspeak tannoy banning mention of Dyke's name "until it had been confirmed by a second source". The second source turned out to be William Hague's office. With craven attitudes like that, what have the Tories got to worry about?

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

This article first appeared in the 05 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, He makes us nice enough for export