Paul Routledge

An interesting little cover-up has emerged in the wake of Ken Livingstone's defection to the After-Dinner Speaking Party. In the contest for Labour nominee for the London Mayor, candidates were allowed to spend a maximum of £1 per member. Charitably interpreted, this rule put a £50,000 ceiling on expenditure. At the time, I pointed out that Frank Dobson (for whom I voted) must have breached the rules, because his post bill came to more than that. Millbank bosses promised a strict scrutiny of the candidates' expenses.

Now, David Wilkinson, the acting regional director of the party, has ruled that because Readies Ken ran as an independent and therefore excluded himself from the party, "I was not in a position to enforce the rules of the selection with regard to expenses returns."

At a stroke, his decision exculpates Dobbo from any wrongdoing, ditto Glenda Jackson. Although both have submitted returns, they will not be made available, even internally. The Mayor did not file a return. So Wilkinson has privately (and magisterially) declared to a complainant: "As one candidate has decided to ignore the result of the electoral college, it rather makes the rules by which it operated irrelevant." How Millbank! That boy will go far under new Labour.

Only two Cabinet ministers have not been to see the Millennium Dome. Gordon Brown has better things to do, and the Trade Secretary Stephen Byers, it is cruelly said, can't find the way. The Chancellor is frothing at the mouth at the constant demands for Lottery money from the cuckoo's nest in Greenwich. Perhaps the new French ringmaster, M Gerbil, could mollify him with displays of Scottish dancing or recitations of Burns's poetry.

But then, lr'n Broon has been given a perfect opportunity to revive his spending attack on greedy Oxford and Cambridge. His earlier bid (supported by David Blunkett) to bring funding for the top two universities in line with the rest was torpedoed by No 10. Blair's Oxbridge- dominated court agreed that costly, tutorial-based teaching is best.

Opinion is divided at Westminster on whether the Labour Party National Executive Committee elections are a farce or a plot. The collapse in turnout, it has been noted, greatly benefited the Blairistas. One senior NEC member confided: "I thought it was just a cock-up, but I'm beginning to wonder." Michael Foot did not get a vote, nor did Charlie Whelan. And the former general secretary Lord (Larry) Whitty either didn't get a nomination paper or inadvertently threw his away, along with the ad-speak party publication in which it was inserted.

The Liberal Democrats are fussy about titles. Steven Webb, Charlie Kennedy's social security spokesman and a former social policy professor at Bath University, likes to be known as Professor Webb. That's not what his staff, who have to lug around whole forests of press releases, call him. To them, he's World Wide Webb.

Is Iron Man Alastair Campbell showing signs of rust? He still takes most lobby briefings. But he seems to have given up on the even more secretive Sunday lobby briefing on Friday afternoon. This used to be a highly prized opportunity to set the weekend agenda. These days, Downing Street usually fields Godric Smith, a civil servant who makes the Sphinx look positively loquacious, or Lance Price, a former BBC political correspondent.

What a far cry from the days when David Hill, a public relations caveman, briefed the Sundays in the shadow cabinet room in the Commons. On one memorable occasion, he stalked in, threw down his papers, and said: "Today, I want to talk about the lurch to the right!" "Whose?" chorused the hacks.

Suspicion is growing that Ali finds the responsibility a strain, and that he might quit after the election. If so, a £500,000 cheque beckons for the memoirs he is writing, plus a seat in the Lords and a job in the City or a lobbying firm. Not to mention a newspaper column, although he might have to polish his style.

The writer is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 05 June 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Driving back to happiness