Paul Routledge

On the face of things, the drive against the forces of conservatism goes on relentlessly. Doctors, teachers and every other public-service employee can expect no mercy. But, inside No 10, there are theological-style doubts. A top insider has voiced dismay to friends at the way it is running, disclosing, by the by, that this section of Tony Blair's Bournemouth speech was actually written by Peter Mandelson. Furthermore, it seems that Alastair Campbell had reservations about the speech, but was overruled by the great helmsman. That must be a first.

To the privacy of one's own home, no less, comes a personalised letter from Frank Dobson, explaining why this is the time for all good men to put the boot into Ken Livingstone. It was posted at the House of Commons, but it is unclear whether the taxpayer is footing the bill for this propaganda barrage. After three closely typed pages of hype, Dobbo gets into his stride. Labour cannot afford to get "the wrong mayor" - no prizes for guessing who this might be. "A Labour mayor who failed would also be deeply damaging to the party - in London and elsewhere - no doubt costing us the seats of MPs and councillors," he chides. "We cannot risk turning the clock back to the dark days of the early 1980s." So there it is. Ken would take us back to the dark ages. To avoid that catastrophe, you can send a cheque made out to "Frank Dobson for Mayor". Chequebook journalism may be out, but not chequebook politics.

The formerly disgraced Ulster secretary has lost no time before standing on ceremony. Dr Mowlam simply invited her civil servants to "call me Mo". Her ministerial understrapper, George Howarth, said "call me George". But Peter Mandelson wishes to be addressed as "Secretary of State". No first-name terms. Who can blame him? The title has such a ring about it. Meanwhile, Belfast's defiantly iconoclastic sense of humour is getting to work on Mandy. The headline for his first meeting with the Irish premier Bertie Ahern? "Sodom and Begorrah."

To Politico's bookshop for the launch of Neil Hamilton's scribbling debut with Great Political Eccentrics. Sample line: "The great merit of the 18th-century practice of buying seats in parliament was that it produced many MPs of robustly independent character." He was, of course, speaking of Anthony Henley, MP for Southampton in 1729. Absolutely nothing to do with contemporary brown envelopes. The hacks spent much of their time cowering behind bookshelves to avoid Christine Hamilton. It's her book I want to read, if only she would spill the beans.

Dissent and ridicuIe already in the upper reaches of the Liberal Democrats. The failed leadership contender David Rendel, an old-Etonian who is never short of something good to say about himself, has announced in his local paper that "Charles Kennedy will be leading the party in Westminster and I will be leading it outside Westminster. You couldn't ask for more than that." Indeed not. If it were true. In fact, Rendel, formerly social security spokesman, was unceremoniously dumped by Kennedy from his cast-of-thousands front-bench team. And news of the "power-sharing pact" was put round Westminster by Paul Tyler, one of Rendel's parliamentary colleagues, who noted with heavy irony that other Lib Dem MPs were unaware of the move.

Some bright spark in the BBC is floating the idea that Charlie Whelan should be taken on a countrywide tour of Red Lion pubs to take the nation's temperature. Presumably the show would be conducted on the pavement amid treacherous Lib Dem parliamentary researchers shopping Charlie to new Labour's thought police. As of today, he is too busy trying to persuade his old boss, Ir'n Broon, to appear on the Jimmy Young programme, which he is presenting for the week beginning 8 November.

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror" and author of biographies of Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown

This article first appeared in the 08 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - To uplift the souls of the people