Paul Routledge

Look, you will just have to be understanding about this, because sport is a no-have-been-there area for me. But it goes something like this. The government is setting up a body to look after the interests of football fans. Jack Cunningham, the gold-medallioned, hairy-chested former Cabinet enforcer, was promised the job by Tony Blair, who famously claimed to have watched Newcastle United stars long after they retired. With uncommon disregard for "Junket" Jack's finer feelings, the fans have revolted. They want nothing of Dr Cunningham, who has been given a bauble of dishing out Lottery money instead. Now, the favourite to become head of "Of-Fan" is the Chief Whip, Ann Taylor, a footie fanatic who irritates the Blair babes with her habit of getting the lads round to 12 Downing Street to watch the match over a few bevvies. What is not clear is whether she would have to cease being an MP. If so, it would be the final nail in the coffin of Blair's woman-friendly pretensions.

New Labour's boss class cannot claim to have been surprised by the success of Michael J Martin in succeeding Betty Boothroyd as Speaker of the Commons. At a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on the first day back after the summer recess, back-bench MPs were enraged at being told by Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the House, that they should vote for Sir George Young, the Diet Coke-swilling Tory. Joe Ashton ranted that he would never vote for an Old Etonian. Kevin McNamara furiously pointed out that Labour had held the Speakership for fewer than 20 out of the last 600 years - and then only because Sir Harry Hylton-Foster dropped dead. The brothers streamed out, refreshed in their determination to elect Michael J, who, despite his donnish appearance, is not thought to be a bookish sort of fellow.

Brother Martin, a former sheet-metal worker and member of the AEEU, wisely tapped the influence of the largest body of MPs in the chamber: the trade union group. His campaign manager was the Scottish Secretary, John Reid, a member of Britain's biggest political party, the ex-Communist Party. Both are teetotal, Reid rather more recently. Michael J is best known for banning lobby correspondents from drinking on the Commons terrace, a punishment for some long-forgotten offence, although their wallets are still in great demand.

All retiring Speakers are absolutely brilliant. That must be true, because Tony Blair praised Betty in tones of such ringing insincerity. It isn't quite like that. For all Betty Boo's fierceness, she was putty in the hands of Gordon Brown. If something looked like being a problem - like a statement on the euro - the smooth Chancellor would ring her up, explain the arithmetic, and she would be perfectly happy.

Peter Mandelson should know better than to mix it with the red-top tabloid editors. He rang round all of them when Geoffrey Robinson's book was serialised, explaining that the whole thing was a put-up job by his enemies: in fact, by Gordon Brown. InterestingIy, the undisgraced Northern Ireland Secretary told my editor at the Mirror, Piers Morgan, that he was the victim of homophobia, a piece of information that prompted the front-page headline "I'm Mandy . . . Don't Fry Me".

This was the first time he had openly admitted to being homosexual, and the BBC Online's political editor, Nick Assinder, immediately published the fact to six million hitters, in defiance of the Beeb's ruling that no reference can be made to Mandy's private life. In a statement to the Press Association, Mandelson denied ever speaking to the Mirror, a flat lie swiftly contradicted by my boss, and subsequently changed to a whinge that he had been speaking off the record. Now can you understand why the Ulster Unionists are tearing their hair out?

Oh, and by the way, Robinson's allegation that Mandy has a plant at the Guardian inspired Seamus Milne (for his modest contribution to the paper) to claim: "He's talking about me!" And a few others, sonny - although the market in Mandelson shares is definitely drying up.

This article first appeared in the 30 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Divorce your husband and watch him get rich