The insider - Kevin Maguire suffers a bout of the TB-GBs
Blair bemoans Wilson's fate, Hain for defence ministry, and Archer's unexplained meeting
Winking his way around a Downing Street reception for women's magazine editors, John Reid told guests that now he has packed in the booze and fags, he is at a loss to think of what to give up next. The Health Secretary and his overactive right eye played host until Tony Blair turned up, delayed by Monday night's bollocking from Labour MPs fearful that the latest outbreak of the TB-GBs could cost them their seats. Gesturing towards a huge portrait of Harold Wilson, the PM moaned that a group of twentysomethings had failed recently to recognise the four-time election winner. He added: "There'll be a picture here of me in a few years' time, and they'll be asking, 'Who's that bloke?'" A few years? There's optimism for you.
The curse of the "anybody-but-Brown" mantle is now falling on the shoulders of Alan Johnson, the only cabinet minister known to have had his house feng-shuied. Robin Cook is the latest big beast heard to mutter that he would back the Work and Pensions supremo. But Cook's assumption that union leaders support the former communications workers' chief is misplaced. Comrades on the party's industrial wing have never forgiven Johnson for choosing a seat on Labour's National Executive Committee over a place on the TUC General Council, a career move that could come back to haunt him.
With the widely anticipated 5 May election date just 16 weeks off, ministers' thoughts are turning to the important issue of jobs, specifically their own. Jack Straw, whom Blair regards with an affection usually reserved for Brown, boned up in 2001 on the environment and then got the Foreign Office. Straw is unlikely to be wasting his time in 2005 if he studies Commons procedure. The current Leader of the House, Peter Hain, fears he will be despatched to Defence, a painful promotion for the CNDer.
Jeffrey Archer's loot is a temptation for wannabe Tory MPs. Robert Halfon, who toils by day as the absurdly titled "chief of staff" to the shadow chancellor, Oliver Letwin, and dreams at night of ousting the Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell in Harlow, denies seeking a sub from Lord Archer of Lincoln Prison. E-mails seen by my Westminster mole show Halfon praising his fundraiser, the City banker Sajid Javid, who was off to see "JA". I ring Halfon, who helped Archer in the campaign for London mayor, but he denies coveting the ex-con's cash. Javid won't comment, then ten minutes later calls back to admit meeting Archer, but not for money. Archer's office says he never comments, ever, on anything.
The PM, it seems, will use Andrew Rawnsley to avenge Robert Peston's Brownite book. The Observer scribbler plans a successor to his Servants of the People (2000), which was inspired by a No 10 poison squad. I hope the new one is more accurate. The first recounted how, after an Anglo-French summit, Brown and Blair got into the same car to discuss Bernie Ecclestone's £1m bung. But when BBC footage was unearthed, it showed the pair leaving separately.
Kevin Maguire is soon to become associate editor (politics), Daily Mirror