Paul Routledge

Such fun to see Michael Portillo engaging nose with carpet at Treasury Questions. But the Tories have only themselves to blame. The Chancellor used to let his shadow know, through the usual channels, which questions he would answer, and which he would pass on to his underlings. This sensible practice fell into desuetude during Ken Clarke's period of office. He was either too lazy, or he didn't relish single combat with Gordon Brown. He once sat through Treasury Questions examining his scuffed suede shoes, without answering a single question.

Anyway, lr'n Broon saw no reason to revive the convention. That's why PortiIIo was savaged by the Treasury minister Andrew Smith, hitherto known only as a pioneer patient in charisma bypass surgery, and failed to challenge the Chancellor on his £20 million extra spend on the changeover plan for the euro. He simply didn't know it was coming.

To hear some journalists talk, you'd think Alastair Campbell's decision to allow them to quote him by name, instead of as "the Prime Minister's spokesman", was a great triumph for them. Ali's hand was apparently forced when the Westminster correspondents got in a lather about his giving Michael Cockerell permission to film the secretive press lobby at work, as part of a fly-on-the-wall documentary. (Presumably, this was the return favour for Cockerell's sick-bag documentary about Tony Blair's 1,000 days.) Faced with complaints from other reporters, Campbell, reported the Guardian, "reluctantly conceded" his anonymity. Reluctantly, my foot! That's what the vain boy always wanted. It was only the Civil Service that demurred.

To Politico's for the launch of Paul van Buitenen's book about fraud in the European Commission. I never knew that Belgian whistle-blowers could be quite so aggressive. What, John Redwood asked him, should Neil Kinnock, the commissioner for commissioners, do? "He should start disciplinary procedures, that would result in the sacking of at least five or ten high-ranking officials!" thundered van Buitenen. He also offered that the European Parliament "is political". Well, I never. Hovering among the bookshelves was Neil Hamilton, Disgraced of Tatton. He's lost a lot of weight, and some of his bounce. Not half as objectionable as he used to be, prompting weird sentiments of sympathy. I steered well clear of his incredibly sexy wife, Christine.

Speaking of Neil Kinnock, news has just reached me of his wrath at the centenary Labour Party bash at the Young Vic theatre, London. The party boss class ended proceedings not with the "Red Flag", but with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". They are too full of themselves to realise that this is the unofficial anthem of the English Rugby Union team, and probably did not notice Kinnock leading a Welsh walkout in disgust. Mind you, the way Wales are playing, perhaps he didn't want his demo to be noticed.

One of the happier memories of my life was the constant replaying of a video recording of Bill Rodgers at a press conference vigorously digging out a particularly reluctant stogie from the upper recesses of his nose, red hankie to hand. He was perfectly oblivious of the camera. So I expect his autobiography, Fourth Among Equals, out this month, to be a jolly good read, even though there was trouble about the title. Evidently he didn't want to be billed as fourth in the Gang of Four. But he could profit if book-buyers think it is a sequel to the Jeffrey Archer novella. Rodgers ends his meanderings with the classic Lib-Dem line: "Perhaps I will do better in future, perhaps not." This recalls the Young Liberals' militant chant "What do we want? Proportional Representation and Fair Votes! When do we want it? In due course!"

My spies on the Independent on Sunday report the latest Janet Street-Porterism: "I do so much not fucking get that!"

The writer is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

This article first appeared in the 20 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: yet again, they are lying to us