Something very strange is happening to new Labour: like the Beatles, they're dying in the wrong order. Donald Dewar, Robin Cook and now Mo Mowlam. It's a telling indictment of Tony Blair that the last two died in semi-detachment, if not outright exile from the centre of power, while a devolved Scottish Parliament - the project closest to Dewar's heart - now occupies a place in the Prime Minister's attention somewhere below ukulele lessons.
The loss of these three former ministers is a blow to all who believe there is more to Labour than PFI, tuition fees and invading Middle Eastern countries.
I had no idea Cook was at risk from heart disease. We know of Blair's coronary irregularities (something apparently kept in check by the administration of a small shock to his system at regular intervals - it's called a mortgage statement); but the Prime Minister is not known for his love of hill-walking - not in this country, at least. He'd have to holiday here, for a start, a feat he hasn't managed since foot-and-mouth forced him to take a short stay in Cumbria in 2002, pour encourager les autres - a chore he carried out with all the forced bonhomie of the Prince of Wales at an Alpine photocall. (Cherie only went because she thought they were going to Umbria.) As it is, Blair's idea of a Lake District holiday would be to walk on the lakes, not the fells. And, anyway, he doesn't do mountains, not since he had a big falling-out with God on Mount Sinai ("Look, God keeps telling me, right, that 'Thou shalt not kill' and all that, but He just doesn't get it, does He? I mean, the rules of the game have changed, and the sooner He gets His head round that, the better").
And another thing: let's face it, if anyone in the government looked like having a heart attack, it's John Prescott. Maybe that's the reason for that famous second Jag of his - it's not, in fact, a luxury but a cunningly disguised ambulance, designed to save the Deputy PM from harm and the nation from a fate worse even than Prescott's stewardship: waking up to discover the country is being run by Jack Straw. ("I'm sorry, Jim, can I just correct you on that - it's a very important point. While I will be assuming effective control of the country - power of attorney, if you like [self-satisfied simper] - it is, of course, extremely important to point out that this is only a temporary arrangement, there being - and I'm sorry to go on about this - no procedure, as such, to deal with such an eventuality.")
We've lost in Cook the most effective critic of Blairism: his arguments all the more persuasive for their coming from such a passionate champion both of Labour's values and of the importance of parliament. And Mowlam was a unique politician who captured the public's imagination and affection in a way that the Prime Minister can only look back at and rue. What a tragedy.
I must confess to wondering, amid the recent concern about the threat to this country from bird flu, whether al-Qaeda might have some nefarious role in events. After all, the agents involved in the transmission to this country of a potentially devastating virus (for this, read "weapons of mass destruction") are thought to be birds currently living, breeding (and, presumably, sneezing) in Kazakhstan, a country well within the clutches of Osama Bin Laden's fiendish diaspora. For all we know, even now, evil clerics are turning the minds of wild ducks, prior to releasing them to make their migration to this country. We must act immediately, and I would expect no less than that the Prime Minister should make it his first task on returning from Barbados to create a Minister Responsible for Wetland Security.
Politicians and commentators have reacted to the bombings of 7 July not by questioning the British government's policies which provoke such murderous anger among our fellow citizens, but by having a huge debate about Britishness. Whenever I hear a politician call for settlers here to integrate, I think of the thousands of Brits who have emigrated to Spain. How many of them have sworn allegiance to Juan Carlos? If we are to force our ethnic minorities to speak English, should we not also require them to binge drink, grow obese and watch Big Brother for a minimum of 16 hours a week? Now that really would be integration.