Paul Routledge

Much bleating at Westminster over the funding of political parties, which new Labour says it is determined to bring under public scrutiny and control. And fine words they are. But how do they square with Tony Blair's Labour Party centenary dinner to be held in a swanky London hotel on 15 April at £500 a plate?

Corporate (a lovely Blairite word, that) clients have been advised that if they book a whole table, seating ten, they will have the inestimable pleasure of an MP in their company. So there you have it. Five grand to have the Hon Member for Bored (South) pretending to listen to you. If that is not corruption within the meaning of the act, I do not know what is.

So wonderful to see Denis Canavan back in the Commons, if only for a day. Since his self-exile to Scotland and its playschool parliament as an independent socialist, I have missed the old bugger. He has put on quite a bit of weight, so I suppose the marathon-running days are over.

He tells me that following his victory against Labour, his old party, he got four letters on successive days. The first, from the Scottish Party HQ, expelled him from the Scottish Party. The second, from Millbank, expelled him from the national party. The third, from the Chief Whip, Ann Taylor, expelled him from the PLP. The fourth, from another whip, Tommy McAvoy, advised him that his electronic pager had been withdrawn. Maybe it was worth it, after all.

Conflicting advice about the virtues of John Mann, the Labour Party trade union liaison officer, trying his damnedest to get the safe seat of Bassetlaw when the incumbent MP, Joe Ashton, goes. His critics point out that he could not even get on the shortlist at Wigan after dear old Roger Stott died last year. And his rival for the constituency, Andrew Hood, ex-political adviser to Robin Cook, now working for the Defence Secretary, Geoff "Buff" Hoon, is a safer new Labour bet. Intelligence that MilIbank Mann is discreetly trying to raise £18 million from the unions for the party's general election fund ought to tip the balance, but you never know these days.

Irecently reported here about the passion for country houses acquired by the undisgraced Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson. I can now put names to his hosts: the Duke of Abercorn, no less, and a Sir Josias somebody or other. Well, it makes a change from the American nouveau riche, I suppose.

To the Channel 4 political awards ceremony. Despite the best efforts of my Westminster agent, Fraser Kemp MP, I fail to win and the palm goes to John Humphrys of the Today programme. This is the second year of the show, which looks like it is here to stay. What a pity the BBC didn't listen when a senior executive suggested six years ago that the Beeb should institute such awards. Never mind, it was entertaining to watch John Bercow, the pushy new member for Buckingham, mouthing the words of his Commons television clip as it appeared on a monitor screen. He will go far that boy. As we say in t'club: the further, the better.

The critics have had a field day panning a new book by William Cash Jr about Graham Greene's long love affair with Catherine WaIston, wife of the complaisant Labour peer. But there is some detail of the political salon that Harry and Catherine ran at Newton Hall in Cambridgeshire. It was a socialist version of Cliveden, with fine wines, footmen and Arab horses. George Brown's wife Sophie hated going there for the weekend, feeling "shy, nervous and out of my depth".

Cash has a theory that Betty Boothroyd had designs to be the second Lady Walston, but though she was his secretary for many years and was rewarded with a grace-and-favour house, I find this difficult to believe. In any event, after Catherine's death, Walston married the ex-wife of Sir Nicholas Scott, the former MP for Chelsea.

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

This article first appeared in the 21 February 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Just wait for the gold rush to end