The insider - Kevin Maguire enjoys John Reid's posh dinner

Milburn covets Prezza's job, party rejects Blair fizz, and Mark Thatcher not guilty shock

Shoulders broader than Alan Milburn's would sag under the weight of criticism heaped on him since he agreed to spend less time with his family to become Labour's election co-ordinator. If the campaign is successful, it will have willing parents in Tony, Gordon, Alastair and Philip, but if it fails, it will be an orphan without Alan on hand to carry the can. Yet the party's Billy Elliot has let it be known, as we say, that he'd like to remain in the cabinet if Labour wins. The post? Prezza's job as Deputy Prime Minister. It has the advantage of annoying Brown and the disadvantage of being occupied by the best left hook in politics. No one has been brave enough to inform Prezza. Until now.

Peterborough's Labour MP, Helen Clark (nee Brinton), might profitably use the four weeks of the campaign to learn that, when she uses a portable telephone, she no longer needs to project her voice over several miles. Bawling near Annie's Bar into her mobile, Clark yelled: "You promised me 120 and only fucking three turned up." Which suggests an unsuccessful meeting.

Labour peers twiddling their thumbs until the quaint business of voting for MPs is over are grumbling about a threat to force them to sign loyalty oaths. Bruce "Grumpy" Grocott, chief whip in the Upper House, has loudly demanded total obedience after a number defended sundry civil liberties and objected to introducing house arrest. Grocott was backed at a private meeting by Lord Drayson of PowderJect, who repeatedly makes clear there is no connection between six-figure party donations, a very profitable public sector smallpox contract and his peerage.

Quelle surprise to discover in the heart of South Kensington John Reid, scourge of west London "wankers", particularly from the BBC. The health Rottweiler and his partner quietly dined at La Brasserie on Brompton Road without an election care in the world. Parked outside partly on a double yellow line, partly across a pelican crossing, was Reid's official Rover. Presumably ready for a quick getaway if Jeremy Paxman wandered in.

A sister rings from the Erith and Thamesmead constituency of the lefty Labour MP John Austin, after my disclosure that Gordon Brown's Budget Day red tie was auctioned for £2,500 in West Brom East. Austin's local party raffled a bottle of Commons champagne signed by the PM. The holder of the first ticket out of the hat shouted "draw again"; the second "winner" asked instead for a small box of Quality Street; the third and fourth names drawn also refused. The fifth accepted, sighing loudly how the bottle would make a good present for someone he didn't like.

The past caught up with Rhondda's Labour MP Chris Bryant, affectionately known as the only gay in the valley. He was lamenting Maggie Thatcher's pit closures when the Plaid Cymru leader Elfyn Llwyd tactfully told him "you were a Tory then". Rhondda's finest feigned deafness, though not giggling comrades.

I hear that a police investigation into allegations that Mark Thatcher took kickbacks from a fishmonger seeking to supply the Palace of Westminster has ended without charges after an eight-month inquiry. Perhaps the fuzz discovered that Thatcher was never actually a parliamentary chef.

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

Next Article