Paul Routledge

Huddersfield is not a place to mess with, even if it wasn't the birthplace of J B Priestley. So it was perhaps unwise for Tony Blair to mount an expedition there to unveil a statue of Harold Wilson, a man he never met and could never genuinely have admired - but was obliged to mouth pleasantries about.

Alastair Campbell's Second Law, which states that the provincial press are dumber than Fleet Street and will swallow any old tripe (this must be a throwback to his days as a Mirror Group trainee in Plymouth) didn't quite operate. The Yorkshire Post was granted an interview with the great helmsman, and found him "pale and tired", bullish about grammar schools ("the Labour Party hasn't closed a single one since it came to office") and defensively insistent that he loves the job and will soldier on for eternity.

We shall see. In the meantime, his much-postponed cabinet reshuffle is now inked in for 27 July, the last day of the current parliament. Insiders say it has to be then because several senior ministers are to make "vision speeches" the weekend before. And Millbank media managers are going on a summer wayzgoose to the Dome on 26 July, culminating in a bash at 10 Downing Street, so that day's out.

Whenever the reshuffle comes, look out for the spirit of place. If a minister is hauled into the Prime Minister's office in Westminster behind the Speaker's chair, he/she is for the chop. If he/she is summoned to Downing Street, it is for promotion. Why the difference? Cameras. You can't have newly ex-ministers spilling their guts on television.

I know that life under new Labour is supposed to be an ideology-free zone, but things can be taken too far. Prison governors are now taking it upon themselves to censor the reading habits of inmates so they do not succumb to deadly virus of socialism, according to the Socialist, organ of the party of the same name (and previously known as the Militant Tendency). "Many prisoners look forward to the Socialist, which is widely circulated in prisons," the paper reports. This is a bit of a giveaway, but it quotes Mark Armstrong, currently doing time at the Wolds prison, saying that the authorities have confiscated every copy of the Socialist sent to him for more than a year. An inmate of Wellingborough prison tells the same story. It cannot be a coincidence that the paper champions victims of alleged miscarriages of justice. When will the Home Secretary act?

Watch out, Downing Street. Channel 4 has commissioned a kick-and-tell documentary about the rise and demise of Charlie Whelan, formerly the whirling dervish of spin-doctors. It will be made by Ross Wilson, who produced the two-parter about the Treasury that deeply embarrassed Blair's control-freaks with its frankness. "I know you can't lie, but sometimes it's hard," was its theme. Working title: Whelan's Westminster (itself a laugh: it ought to be Charlie's Red Lion). The programme will lift the lid on his years with Gordon Brown. Worse or better, depending on your vantage point - it will go out during Labour Party conference week, when Whelan will be in Bournemouth writing a gossip column.

I hope Ross gets the terms right. When Charlie said "you won't get me to comment on that", it meant the story was wrong. If he said "bollocks", you were on the right track. But when he expostulated "complete parcel of bollocks", you headed straight for the phone.

Labour's ancient terribles, the Old Testament Prophets (MPs who have no hope of office), have reached that pitiful stage where they feel obliged to dish out awards. So, in the coming week under the chairmanship of Bob Marshall Andrews, they meet to dream up a list of desirables whose main distinction is that they annoy the boss class. I hear this from Dr lan Gibson MP (Norwich North, Scientific Rebel Party), just in case you think I observe the privacy rules of the Commons Terrace.

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

This article first appeared in the 19 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The transport row: who is to blame?