Paul Routledge

Make of this what you will. A veteran Labour backbencher sallied forth to No 10 (don't lie, Downing Street children, I have the invitation card) for a glass or two - and was discreetly offered a peerage in return for his safe seat in the north of England. There can be no surer sign of an impending election. What is more, he formed the clear impression that Tony Blair has a hit list of 35 MPs of a certain age who are being similarly approached, with a view to infiltrating a fresh generation of MilIbank zombies into parliament.

The Great Helmsman will no doubt be pleased to hear that Mark Seddon, his critic in the editorial chair at Tribune, has been selected as the Labour candidate for the safe Tory seat of Buckingham, held by John "Mad" Bercow. This futile bid to repeat Bob Maxwell's political coup will take "Deutsch" Mark safely out of the fray for the next three months and blunt his scurrilous pen. No hope of that here.

Keith Vaz may survive the onslaught against him, but he is firmly established as a figure of fun in the parliamentary lobby. He hangs around the fringes of EU conferences, wistfully looking for a journalist to listen to him. At the Nice summit, some of the boys from Westminster were only too happy to give him and his fey young assistant a lift to an exotic "nite-spot" on the seafront named Queenie's. How sensible of the minister for Europe to get away from those boring negotiations about expanding Europe, etc.

All sorts of strange beasts are emerging from the woodwork with the second disgracing of Mandy. A note from Roger Casale and Linda Perham, two 1997-entry MPs, to members of the New Heartlands Group, discloses that, "following the resignation of Peter Mandelson as chair of the general election planning committee", Douglas Alexander, the general election co-ordinator, would address the group on 7 February. A number of points here. Is "New Heartlands" not a contradiction in terms? Why is diminutive Dougie being punted as the new Mandelson? And why can't Casale, MP for the novel heartland of Wimbledon, spell? He uses the term "New Hearlands" twice. Perhaps that's the real title, derived from their shouts of "Hear! Hear!" every time Blair speaks.

The best quote of the scandal comes from Austin Mitchell MP, who said: "He [Mandy] will become the Fergie of the Labour Party. Any time now, he'll bring out an exercise video with Reinaldo." Not so sure about the last bit. Rumours of a lovers' tiff appear well founded.

Andrew Lansley, the Tories' all-purpose spokesman, has not always been as up-front as he is now. My snout at Exeter University in the 1970s says he stood for president of the students' union as an independent, against the official Conservative candidate. He only disclosed his Tory identity after winning. Perhaps that befits him for shadow cabinet office minister status. He likes living in the shadows.

The greatest blow of all recent events was the cancellation of Margaret Beckett's drinks party for lobby journalists, which was to have taken place on 24 January, the day when Mandy was sacked by Mr Justice Kangaroo. The Leader of the House feared, I suppose, that jolly sherbet-taking might be misconstrued.

Strange, what one hears on the native heath. The landlord of my brother's local in Normanton, West Yorkshire (the seat coveted by Ed Balls, but currently held by Bill O'Brien, who may also find a peerage in the post), turns out to have been a platoon sergeant in lain Duncan Smith's regiment of the Scots Guards. "We called him Drunken Duncan," he confides. I never noticed. Too busy admiring the ridiculous brown trilby, I suppose.

More to the point, David Davis easily outdistanced his boss William Hague for Channel 4 "Opposition Politician of the Year". The poll was taken among MPs, so a few shillings on his chances of becoming Tory leader might not be wasted.

The writer is the chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 12 February 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Exclusive: how Labour could lose