Paul Routledge

Sarah and Gordon Brown's party was the social event of the parliamentary recess. The ploterati assembled in what looked like a disused aircraft hangar in Southwark. Gordon issued a stern "no writing" injunction, but you can't invite an inveterate gossip and then expect me to observe a Trappist vow. Trouble is, we missed most of his speech until someone switched on the microphone. I just caught the bit about his marriage being prudent, and satisfying the five economic tests.

In one corner, I found Andrew Mackinlay, still beavering away at the contest for the chairmanship of the Parliamentary Labour Party. He thinks he can win, although Nigel Griffiths, Gordon's pet hamster, has joined the race, and Tony Lloyd, the chair of the trade union group, is also in the frame. The incumbent Blair-lackey, Clive Soley, looks dead in the water, but No 10 has yet to issue instructions.

Labour's Gordon Prentice and the daft-shirted Tory backbencher Eric Forth have joined forces to politicise the election for Speaker, circulating Iikely MPs and asking if they wish to participate in a hustings. Five MPs fell into the trap: Alan Beith, Sir Patrick Cormack, Michael Lord, John McWilliam and Nicholas Winterton - signalling that they want to succeed Betty Boothroyd next month. Four said no: Gwyneth Dunwoody, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Michael J Martin (both deputies to Madam Speaker) and Richard Shepherd. John Butterfill can't make up his mind, which should disqualify him anyway. Sample manifesto: "I want to uphold the dignity of parliament, earn £106,000 a year and ride around in a gold carriage."

To the Dorchester Hotel, for the Foyle's literary lunch celebrating Michael Heseltine's autobiography, Life in the Jungle. The top table was long enough to land Concorde, and seated many of the old gang: Gummer, Walker, Mawhinney, Hunt, Wakeham, plus, incongruously, the Finnish ambassador (a case of the Finnish and the finished, perhaps). Hezza was lavish in self-praise for his book, while not finding an opportunity to mention Anthony Howard, who actually wrote it. Gummer ostentatiously wore a gaudy tie over his shoulder, obviously fearful of spilling his gravy. Lord (Peter) Walker of Worcester's tie was practically round his ankles. Hezza threatened to write another book - on his arboretum. Presumably Alan Titchmarsh will write that one.

Peter Mandelson, the undisgraced Northern Ireland Secretary, has been seen in public with a new hairdo. Partygoers at a birthday bash in the London Aquarium barely recognised him with his schoolboyish, over-the-forehead coiffure, and swear blind it was dark brown, rather than his favourite jet black. Is this an attempt to offer a softer image?

Tony Blair hates flying. We have it on the authority of his neighbour MP, Stuart Bell, who has composed the longest political love letter in history, entitled Tony Really Loves Me. He records that a flight to Teesside airport in 1987 showed Blair's will-power and discipline. "For not only did he not like flying; he was claustrophobic in airplanes. Flying made him genuinely ill." Bell, MP for Middlesbrough, once questioned him on the subject. "I don't like it," Blair replied, "but I do it." This intelligence may explain his dyspeptic remarks on foreign trips, when parliamentary hacks pester the great helmsman for his in-flight thoughts. Incidentally, Bell's heavily ironic affection for Blair did not get him a job, unless you call being Church Commissioner and answering questions about the C of E political advancement.

It being the season of books, not even Charles Kennedy can resist the impulse to get into print. His The Future of Politics contains such gems as: "Today's young people are very different from their parents." He also reveals that Tony Blair was initially (and perfectly understandably) anxious not to be seen in public with him, and could only "break bread" in the privacy of Lord Irvine's London home.

The writer is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 25 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Women: still firmly in their place