Paul Routledge

Tetchy Tony Blair is not solely motivated by a natural parental concern in his legal action to prevent the Mail on Sunday (or any other newspaper) printing revelations by the family's former nanny, Ros Mark. He is also worried about his image, and that of the First Lady, Cherie.

The press are not particularly interested in Blair's kids, except where their parents' school choices conflict with Labour Party policy. They are not like the royal children. They won't become king.

But the Tony-Cherie relationship is of consuming media interest, because it has the potential to tell us so much about the Prime Minister. Who throws the plates in that household? And there is also a fascination with Cherie's lifestyle, not to mention who pays for it. I have a suspicion, not ill-founded, that this is the engine of their wrath. The Labour Party can go down the pan, but the president and his wife have to be squeaky clean if they are to stay in Downing Street.

Mark you, the nanny is not exactly the saintly naive she has been portrayed as being. Neighbours in Islington remember her stepping into the street to bark at drivers who had the impertinence to park outside the Blair home.

MPs dread getting questionnaires through the post, because new Labour's whips forbid them to take part in polls. But this is one they can't ignore. The Commons boss class is asking backbenchers if they want to move to new offices in the £300 million PortcuIIis House. Do they want a room with their secretary in it? Or a suite where the secretary sits outside? Or with another member's secretary on their knee? I made that last bit up, but you get the drift. Apart from those fronting on the Thames, and therefore open to every goggling tourist on the Big Wheel, the £1-million-a-time offices have only one thing to be said for them: you cannot see crematorium-style Portcullis House from their windows

As the general election gets closer, so grows speculation about the future of Madam Speaker, Betty Boothroyd. The heirs-apparent and likely lads (most think it will be a man next time) are strutting round like peacocks on speed. Consider Betty's deputy, the Tory Sir Alan Haselhurst: beautiful plumage, but the call is a bit piping.

Not so Michael J Martin, the other deputy and a no-nonsense former merchant seaman, whose pipes are of the Highland variety. Then there are the claims of the Liberal Democrats: the deputy leader Alan Beith and Ming Campbell.

The trouble is that they - and Michael J, for that matter - are Scots MPs, and there is a serious question-mark over whether post-devolution Westminster will ever again accept a Scot in the chair. Unless he sits for an English seat, which might advance the claims of John McWilliam MP for the Tyneside seat of Blaydon.

The only woman being canvassed is Gwyneth Dunwoody, the feisty daughter of Morgan Phillips, quondam general secretary of the Labour Party. She campaigned for her pal Betty to get the job, and "dragged" her to the chair in 1992. But she turns 70 this year, as Madam Speaker did last. Boothroyd looks as robust as ever. I suspect she will see them all off.

To the London Marriott Hotel for Michael Brunson's farewell from ITN and the greeting of his replacement as political editor, John Sergeant, late of the BBC. Most of the political classes were on parade. Little did they know the date of the event had to be changed to ensure that Seargy could be there. He had promised the undisgraced Northern Ireland Secretary to be present at a charity bash. Hundreds of posh invitation cards to the Brunson farewell had to be pulped.

And where was Mandelson on the night? Alastair Campbell turned up. I have a vague recollection of him speaking to me. But Mandy, I have to report, snubbed Seargy.

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Ken, the great conductor