The insider - Kevin Maguire checks up on Nurse Hewitt
A gold star for Blair, flying bedpans for Nurse Hewitt, and cap-doffing on the Isle of Wight
The time is fast approaching when Tony Blair must grit those teeth, board a flight to Washington and collect his gold star for invading Iraq. Images of George W Bush patting his UK poodle on the head give Downing Street the heebie-jeebies, but the PM recognises the value of a congressional medal on the US lecture circuit, post-premiership. More has also emerged about the secret musings of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, on the illegality of war, which were published during the election after the juiciest sections were leaked. Blair's handwritten scrawl, including the annotation "I don't understand this", was erased before the 14 pages were released. The note is regarded in Whitehall as an order for a simple legal "yes", to authorise military action in March 2003.
Blair fixer Baroness Morgan is hoping to fill her purse when she joins the exodus out of No 10, by touting her contacts book to lobbyists. Lady Money has made much of how she intends to spend more time with her family, yet needs the extra cash to pay the private school fees. The long-term Downing Street inmate was at the heart of the war circle, but her enthusiasm for military action was as popular at home as in the Sunni Triangle. Neighbours were tickled pink that her teenage son displayed an anti-war sticker in his bedroom window.
Bedpans are flying after Patricia Hewitt used her first speech as Health Secretary to boast how she is to privatise an arm and a leg of the NHS. No 10 was in the dark, and Unison protested she had assured it a few days earlier that there would be no major announcements for three months.
At a meeting of government special advisers on the day of Nurse Hewitt's big sell, Blair's new political secretary, John McTernan, was met with deathly silence when he asked if anyone from the health department was present. "Good," declared McTernan, "this is not how we do things." It always was, John, it always was. Talk in Strangers' Bar turns to whether Nurse Hewitt will make as big a hash of Health as she did of Trade, where she was run over by the MG Rover crash.
John Denham, a resigner over Iraq, rejected a return to government in the "crap" job of minister for incapacity benefit cuts, though it is the reshuffle resignation of Fraser Kemp as a whip that is causing most nervousness on the Labour benches. Colleagues desperately clinging to the greasy pole feel threatened that one of their own let go so happily. Kemp, I gather, is to devote his Machiavellian talents to saving first-past-the-post voting from the clutches of reformers. To this end, he is the only constituency MP with a communications chief. He has hired the Sunday Telegraph wordsmith David Bamber, a hack who thinks in bold headlines. Several colleagues with small majorities, thinking four years ahead, have applied to borrow Bamber.
Labour winning a historic third term overshadowed the Tories retaking Isle of Wight Council, where Blair's call for respect has been answered by a return to Edwardian England. The new regime immediately banned councillors and staff from using first names, and introduced a dress code of collar and tie for the boys, and "formal" for the gels. What next: cap-doffing? Plumes in the Tory hats, obviously, cloth for Labour, and hoodies for the Lib Dems. The Labour councillor Deborah Gardiner is threatening to wear a ball gown to council meetings.
Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror