Paul Routledge

Small wonder that Peter Mandelson looked, according to one account, "distracted" when he gave Labour's National Executive Committee an upbeat assessment of the general election campaign last Tuesday. He knew, though they did not, that Downing Street was hanging him out to dry for his latest fib.

Now the undisgraced one has been re-disgraced. The Tories had secretly hoped it wouldn't happen. In the green room at GMTV on Wednesday morning, I urged Andrew Lansley, the Tories' rising star, not to agree with me on air. "Don't worry," he chortled. "We don't want him to go. He's doing us more good staying where he is."

Will the BBC now allow people to mention that Mandy is gay? The Anne Sloman directive forbidding any mention of his private life had already been withdrawn. Not that a fresh circular had been sent out; it was simply allowed to get around. So far, one woman has had the nerve to talk about three gays in the Cabinet, without naming them. Not really the Brave Broadcasting Corporation, is it?

With William Hague due to attend a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch, Tory minions spent days scouring Westminster for a complaisant hack who would agree to take boring Lord (Sebastian) Coe along as a guest. Several refused to accommodate the leader's judo companion but, since Billy goes nowhere without him, the search was continuing as the NS went to press.

Pat McFadden, the last remaining member of John Smith's kitchen cabinet, and the only Labour apparatchik who knows about trade unions, cannot be very happy at Millbank, where he was despatched from No 10. By all accounts, he is being frozen out by the disaster-prone general secretary, Margaret McDonagh, for whom a peerage awaits the day after the election.

McFadden, a Scot so dry you could dust your armpits with him, is supposed to be Downing Street's eyes and ears at party HQ. He is allowed to sit in various meetings, but is kept out of the decision-making. Perhaps he could appeal to wee Dougie Alexander, the campaign frontman and Gordon Brown's former photocopying assistant, who beat McFadden to a safe Scottish seat.

Andrew Marr, the BBC's £120,000- a-year political editor, advised newspaper readers that he never goes anywhere without his dongle, the new electronic key to get into Beeb premises. I have news for Big Ears: the security system, which cost almost as much as his salary, doesn't work, as staff found when it came into operation last week. Never let your dongle dangle in the dust!

Michael Jones of the Sunday Times appears in a photograph above the bar of Annie's with Betty Boothroyd and Edward Heath. I knew he was a great pal of Ted, but not of the departed Speaker. In my book on Betty, I quoted sources close to the former PM as saying "she goes over the top a bit sometimes". After six years, I don't suppose it will matter if I disclose that it was the old grocer himself. Now I see that Jones is ghosting Boothroyd's official autobiography, for a reputed £150,000 share of the advance.

Phil Woolas, Labour MP for Oldham East, has just returned from a trip to Pakistani Kashmir with three constituents, one an Afghan. Walking in the garden at the British embassy in Islamabad, they came across a fine marble statue of Queen Victoria, sans hands. It had evidently been rescued from a local rubbish tip. The excited Afghan took one look at the handless monarch, and asked: "Was she thief?"

By coincidence, Woolas's defeated Lib Dem rival, Chris Davies, now an MEP for somewhere in the top left of the map of England and the chair of the All-Party European Parliamentary Kashmir Group (now there's a title to roll round your gob), was in Westminster last week. He cheekily predicts that Charlie Kennedy will lose seats on 3 May. Dead right.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 29 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The fall of Mandelson