Paul Routledge

Wherever Tony Blair goes to church on Christmas Day, you may be sure that the setting is appropriately, and unmistakably, Christian. In the aftermath of Princess Diana's death, Cherie wanted the great helmsman to give his famous weepy "people's princess" oration in front of the Roman Catholic church in his Sedgefield constituency. But Alastair Campbell overruled her choice on the grounds that the modern RC building didn't look churchy enough, and the new Labour beatification duly took place in front of a traditional Anglican church, spire and all.

I do hope the PM offers a prayer for his deputy, who seems to be on a self-destruct mission. John Prescott has only himself to blame for the spate of stories that he is being stripped of his powers on transport. That's what he told the Sunday Times, and he (but only he) was surprised that they hung him out to dry.

Still, Lord Macdonald, the Trot-turned-tycoon given the thankless task of sorting out new Labour's transport strategy, will not make the same mistake. Presumably at the instigation of his parliamentary private secretary, the ex-GMB media man Phil Woolas, Lord Gus has poached Adrian Long, another former GMB press man, from the BBC to be his spin-doctor.

The false modesty of the undisgraced Ulster Secretary Peter Mandelson, who says that he has made himself redundant by bringing devolution to Northern Ireland, may actually be true of a fellow cabinet minister, Paul Murphy. Twice in recent days, the Welsh Secretary has been spotted doing his Christmas shopping in Victoria Street during office hours. The mystery is what he expects to buy there. Oxford Street it ain't.

William Hague has his problems with Tory MPs, but he can't pretend that he didn't know what a priceless lot they are. Almost two decades ago, when he was president of the Oxford Union, he gave an interview to an undergraduate magazine. Explaining his views on monetarism, 20-year-old William said loftily: "These arguments are beyond most people's comprehension. A lot of MPs don't know any more than the standard answers. I've met a lot of Tory MPs and your awe of them decreases as you see them struggle in difficult situations."

I'll say. But more interestingly, William said: "Sometimes it's hard to convince people I'm a normal person." There are still some difficulties in that department.

Sit up at the back there and take notice! Gwyneth Dunwoody, combative chairman of the transport select committee, is determined to bring order to lax proceedings in the committee room corridor. These warm gothic rooms are conducive to sleep. The steady drone of witnesses only accentuates somnolence. But a lobbyist who nodded off in Dunwoody's committee was woken up vigorously, and his protests that it was too hot were ignored. Gwyneth's law lays down "three kips and you're out". First, sleepers are woken up. Second time, woken up rather more aggressively. Third time, thrown out.

LWT has chosen a strange time to axe its political programme, Crosstalk, regularly presented by my dear comrade Don Macintyre, political commentator of the Independent and hagiographer of Peter Mandelson. Just as politics in the capital is getting interesting, the show goes off-air. Perhaps they were experiencing difficulties in getting ministers to expose themselves to cross-examination. Robin Cook pulled out of Breakfast with Frost at short notice, signalling a tougher stand by Millbank in the run-up to the election.

And finally, a conundrum from J B Seatrose's new book, Oh, Prime Ministers!. Who wrote of himself?

Few thought he was even a starter
There were many who thought themselves smarter
But he ended PM
CH and OM
An earl and a knight of the garter.

A free copy of the book for the first correct answer.

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

This article first appeared in the 20 December 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Now then, are we getting anywhere?