Paul Routledge

I attended Peter Mandelson's Christmas drinks party where he was reported to have described George W Bush as a Sinn Fein sympathiser. Certainly, he spent much of his time talking about American politics, and very little talking about Northern Ireland, his titular responsibility. The chief burden of his remarks, as I recollect them, centred on the weakness of the Democrat campaign and how he would have done it much better. The memorable thing about the event was the huge pile of uneaten food, virtually ignored by the small turnout of hacks who hung on his every word.

The leader's undisgraced little helper is also getting very cross about being addressed, even to a third party, by his nickname. When George Pascoe-Watson, the Sun's teenage warrior at Westminster, paged an aide to the Northern Ireland Secretary to ask if "Mandy's" speech was ready, he got an instant reply from Mandy himself instructing him not to refer to him in that way. Maybe the Sun will follow the example of the Belfast Telegraph, which has a total ban on using the expression.

More to the point, I hear that Blair's patience with Mandy is running out. With his Hartlepool hauteur, he has managed to upset the entire political spectrum in BeIfast, which is no mean feat, and the Downing Street fixer Jonathan Powell has been given the job of saving the peace process. Mandy is even being compared unfavourably with his predecessor Mo Mowlam, who was sidelined as part of the Peter rehabilitation process.

Pausing only at the Albert pub in Victoria Street, where back-bench Labour MPs are gathering for their seasonal singalong (Margaret Beckett does particularly fine renditions of socialist ditties), I move to Politico's for an exhibition of political cartoons, mainly by the wonderfully outrageous Martin Rowson. Charlie Kennedy failed to turn up - he will do this once too often - but, alas, John Redwood did. Instead of a knockabout turn, he made a heavy-duty speech about Europe, so he had to be heckled. When Amanda Platell isn't around, the Tories do make terrible fools of themselves.

The Office of National Statistics, I hear, phoned the Department of Trade and Industry minister Patricia Hewitt as part of the Labour Force Survey to ask how many hours she works. Hewitt replied "74", which seems a bit over the top even for someone who used to work in Gordon Brown's ministry of workaholics. They also asked her how many weeks she takes as holiday; she couldn't tell them because she doesn't have a proper contract of employment. She further admitted to not receiving overtime pay. What will the ONS do with this information?

Raised hackles at the Ministry of Defence, where the unions are discussing, or rather opposing, Labour's plans to privatise engineering functions within the naval bases at Faslane and Devonport. Three-thousand jobs will go to the private sector, and not all are expected to survive. An announcement is imminent, and Jack Dromey of the Transport & General Workers Union denounced the plan as "the Railtrack of the high seas". The bases are actually on land. But, that aside, this was too much for the defence minister John Spellar, who exploded with rage. Spellar should have realised that Jack, aka Mr Harriet Harman, is starting early on his third bid to win the general secretaryship of the TGWU, vacant once Bill Morris retires.

As the NS revealed last week, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, the transport minister, has some problems coming to terms with the rail crisis, presumably because he doesn't travel by train. But he is not shy about looking after himself. His former workmates on Clydeside are still shaking their heads in disbelief that Gus claimed compensation for industrial deafness contracted in the shipyards where he was briefly a rebellious apprentice. Why a media millionaire needs the pitifully inadequate "deafie money" is beyond their understanding. Maybe he got it from attending political meetings as a young Trot. They do shout a lot, it's true.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

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