The insider - Kevin Maguire puts the wind up Michael Howard

Top aides jostle for seats, Blair's Third Way drink, and Howard flees our columnist

John Prescott has decreed that there should be no deals offering ermine or nice little earners chairing quangos to winkle MPs out of safe seats to make way for Tony Blair's advisers. But with the advisers desperate to get out of Downing Street before he does, the PM is likely to ignore Prescott. Honours lists and public appointments will need to be scrutinised after the election. The latest wave of unexpected Labour vacancies includes Doncaster North, Plymouth Devonport and Dudley North, with tearoom gossip of at least two more. Sniffing around Dudley North is the Black Country boy Ian Austin, press secretary to Gordon Brown, while Ed Miliband, the Chancellor's economics adviser, is casting his eye over Doncaster. The Blair-Brown battle, it seems, has moved to the constituencies.

The battle for Bishop Auckland is to be decided on Saturday 5 March. Regular readers may recall that, in the contest for this safe seat, the Downing Street special adviser Liz Lloyd is going head-to-head with the former north-east Euro MP Mo O'Toole. Local pressure got O'Toole (aka the former Mrs Alan Milburn) on the women-only shortlist despite No 10's moves to block her. Last month, Lloyd joined the influential Amicus union, a tactic used by the Tory defector Shaun Woodward in 2001 when he was parachuted into St Helens South. O'Toole, a long-standing member of Amicus, has her own secret backer: Stephen Byers, best friend of her ex. May the best machine win.

To a St David's Day reception hosted by Peter Hain, with virtually everyone in the room promised tickets to watch Wales's resurgent rugby team. Hain, who is still Welsh Secretary as well as Leader of the Commons, has a picture of Nelson Mandela next to Nye Bevan's statue. Talk turns to how the two would have opposed the pass laws now being rammed through parliament.

Piers Morgan's account in the Daily Mail of what he told the Prime Minister next includes the wonderful vignette that Blair sups beer from a silver tankard in the Downing Street flat. A spin-doctor's dream of an image: traditional drinking in a modern mug to appeal simultaneously to the ale-quaffing factory class and the tankard-gripping golf club bores of Middle England.

I drank, scoffed and uttered impenetrable Welsh phrases on St David's Day for the "The Week According to . . .", a BBC Radio 4 slot (broadcast at the end of The Westminster Hour on 6 March; repeated 9 March). The previous night, the show's reporter Mandy Baker and I talked our way into the Conservative City Circle, a champagne-and-canapes gathering of 500 well-heeled suits. But when I pursued Michael Howard for an interview about the Tories' financial backers, he hot-footed it down a fire escape.

BNP councillors in Burnley are keeping magistrates busy. Brian Turner is to be sentenced on 7 March after pleading guilty to beating his wife and assaulting a police officer; Luke Smith was banned from every football ground in the country after being convicted of hooliganism; Len Starr, also the party's parliamentary candidate, is charged with selling alcohol to under-age drinkers. Indeed, last month he got a caution for serving hard drink to teenagers. Burnley BNP is the party of law and disorder.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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