Paul Routledge

The smell rising from the London mayoralty mess gets ranker by the day. The two main rail unions, RMT and Aslef, whose members might have been expected to use their electoral college votes for Ken Livingstone, have been excluded from the process of choosing the Labour candidate because they missed the deadline to pay their subscriptions. But no such inhibition affects individual ex-members whose loyalty might be thought to lie with Frank Dobson. Lapsed activists, including the wife of the Fire Brigade Union leader Ken Cameron, whose membership ended two years ago, have been told they have until 14 November to pay up and get a vote.

Intelligence from York. A boy who fagged for Dobson, when he was head boy at the posh Archbishop Holgate's Grammar School, remembers how Folksy Frank kept the whole school in after class four days running because they wouldn't be quiet. Only a parents' revolt halted Dobbo's disciplinary mania, which also made him give a boy lines for commenting on the way Dobbo drummed his feet under the lunch table. The child was required to write out 500 times: "Objects of interest under the table would not be noticed if the viewer were concentrating on his meal and table manners."

The habit is catching. I have been warned by a senior political adviser in the Health Department that if I canvass support for Livingstone in the event of him running as an independent, I will be expelled from the party. The same punishment will be meted out if I simply say that I intend to vote for Ken, unless he is the official candidate.

Fortunately, big brother is not yet in the polling booth looking over my shoulder. But I suppose they will get round to it.

The change of government sadly robbed us of the Douglas Hogg hat cabaret. His Lincolnshire fedora livened many a television news programme. But who is this stepping martially through the palace of Westminster? It is Ian Duncan-Smith, the Tories' defence spokesman, complete with a lurid brown trilby to cover his balding head from the sharp autumn northerly. It must be something left over from the officers' mess in his Scots Guards days.

In a commendable show of respecting the past - not a crime to which new Labour can often plead guilty - the Scottish Parliament is to honour one of postwar Britain's greatest figures: Michael McGahey, the miners' leader, who died earlier this year. His ashes are to be interred beneath the new parliamentary building in Holyrood, with a plaque of remembrance. Only north of the border could a longstanding communist reviled in his lifetime be so honoured.

My favourite story of Mick goes back to his introduction as fraternal speaker to the South Wales miners' conference. He was referred to throughout as "Mr McGay". McGahey gave his usual rousing appeal for an end to capitalism and then privately asked his host why he called him "McGay". "Well, you see, we have many Welsh-speaking miners from the anthracite pits here. 'Gahy' is the Welsh word for shit. I didn't want to introduce you as Mick McShit."

In their new study of No 10, the academics Dennis Kavanagh and Anthony Seldon claim that a number of Blair's people want to move out to a large, newly designed building. The authors agree, suggesting that the millennium is an ideal time for such a major commission. Downing Street could then be transformed into a "museum of British premiership" on the tourist route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster.

Can't you just envisage it? See! The desk where John Major signed his own death warrant. Several times. Thrill! To the original fridge where Harold Wilson kept beer and sandwiches for union bosses. Experience! The sense of power in the Maggie Memorial Cabinet Room. Alas, it will not happen. Blair is too conservative to move into a glass tower. And Gordon Brown wouldn't let him spend the money.

The author is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

This article first appeared in the 15 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Guns and the Dome