Paul Routledge

An extraordinary idea is gaining ground in the north-east, according to the usual sources. Unhappy Labour folk plan to revive the Independent Labour Party, the original political instrument of socialists, and put up a candidate against Peter Mandelson in Hartlepool. This goes far beyond my musing about standing as Real Labour against the Prince of Darkness. They mean business. So much so, that MPs are discussing how Blair will parachute Mandy into a safe seat after the election, should the challenge succeed. He'll be lucky. There won't be many of them, and Labour veterans willing to fall on their sword are even thinner on the ground.

To the Radio 5 Live Sunday Service party, held at the Congress Club, which is said to be just below Jonathan Aitken's (or the taxman's) flat off Millbank. Lots of Tories there: John Redwood, Robert Key, Bernard Jenkin (who later reports me to Central Office prefects for being rude; I wasn't; he would have known if I had been), Damian Green, Peter Lilley and David Ruffley among them. They all thought they were at a party in Aitken's basement until they saw Bob Geldof and Charlie Whelan.

Continuing the Gordon-dyes-his-hair theme, the impertinent Whip Gerry "Sooty" Sutcliffe claims that I dye mine, until David Healy of the Bloomberg news agency points out that no one would use such a colour. So who else does? We all know about Mandy's Brazilian plum. There is unanimity on John Prescott, and a consensus that Blair indulges in "highlighting". But Ken Clarke? I would think him above such nonsense.

Just out of badness, I have to report that David Amess (Chicken Run, Southend), on a parliamentary visit to Israel, refused to bathe in the Dead Sea on the grounds that he cannot swim.

Conservative Central Office must be really strapped for cash. An inquiry from the New Statesman for a photograph of David "Two Brains" Willetts, the shadow social security secretary, brought a swift response. "Here's a number you can ring," said the Smith Square war room. It turns out to be a picture agency, which wants £25 for the pic, plus a reproduction fee. The idea of charging for propaganda photographs is novel. What next? A pay-as-you-enter turnstile for Central Office press conferences?

The Tories have chosen Adrian Lee as their candidate for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, the Kent marginal currently held for Labour by the engaging Derek Wyatt, who once played rugby union for England. Perhaps it will be of interest to the voters that Lee, interviewed for Tatler in November 1985, spoke vigorously in favour of Unita in Angola, and the "KPNLF . . . in, in, in, oh God, Mozambique". In Cambodia, in fact, where they were in league with the Khmer Rouge. In a feature on the "Bedlamite right" among the Young Conservatives, Lee was happy to be photographed, when apartheid was still in full swing, under a poster proclaiming "I [HEART] South Africa". Edward Heath was a traitor, he thought, and he condemned the leadership of the YCs for their "Marxist conspiracies". It is possible that he has grown up a bit since then, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Speaking of the oval ball game, David Hinchcliffe, MP for Wakefield, has written an absorbing book about the century-long battle to win respectability and equality for rugby league. It is a story of unrelenting class war by the union code and its supporters, which is by no means over. Despite being raised midway between Wakefield Trinity and Featherstone Rovers, I knew practically nothing about the game except that my grammar school never played it. But Hinchcliffe's book, Rugby's Class War, lifts the lid on breathtaking bigotry, elitism and hypocrisy. And I didn't know he was a canal narrowboat nutter.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror and a biographer of Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Goodbye to the dirty mac image