Paul Routledge

These things have to be taken at face value, or not at all, but if my snout is to be believed, Cherie QC is pondering aloud why Tony doesn't go out and get himself a proper job that pays real money. This may seem incredible in a month that sees his pay go up to £158,658, with another £2,000 recommended for all MPs by the Top Salaries Review Body. But Blair's admission in a Sunday Telegraph interview - that "I'll get out before my working life is over, I have thought about it" - does suggest there might be something to this tit-bit.

The review body's study of the work and value of politicians suggests that the PM ought to be on a yearly £654,000. The same study has also fallen for the MPs' line that they work four days a week at Westminster and three days in their constituencies. Naturally, its findings came out on an MP-free Friday, and they were overshadowed by another sleaze report on Keith Vaz. If you miss one of those, there's always another coming up behind.

Not that £54,000 a year by next February for MPs will tempt gorgeous, clouting Amanda Platell into parliament. "Still not enough for me!" chortled William Hague's spin-doctor. She should be so lucky.

It looks very much like 3 May. A hereditary Labour peer - Gerry Collier, aka Lord Monkswell - rings me at home to demand that I go out and deliver leaflets for Kingsley Abrams, the first black candidate for Bermondsey and Southwark. (I climb seven flights for the cause, twice, in a block of flats where the lifts are out of action.) David Wilkinson, the Millbank chief, has banned party branch meetings so as to release members for the election drive. But why is my local party so keen to invite Ken Livingstone to a rally, when he is not even a member? Can there be a rapprochement at hand?

Virtually nothing of interest took place at the Liberal Democrats' spring conference in Torquay. So much so that Lord (Tim) Razzall, the party treasurer, was quite excited to receive a pager message from an unknown lady inviting him to a "wild weekend". Alas, the garblers had been busy; he was being punted for The World This Weekend.

On one of the few occasions I was not in the press gallery bar recently, a senior civil servant boasted of her knowledge that a high-ranking press officer in the Home Office had also been working for MI5. Most people found it hard to believe the individual was a press officer anyway, so, er . . . undistinguished was his performance. Makes you wonder who took his place, and who snitches to the security services in the press lobby.

Mandy saga, part 38. There is interest at Westminster that Tom Kelly, director of information in the Northern Ireland Office, was brought so intimately into the Downing Street discussions on the sacking of Peter Mandelson. Blair wanted to know what impact the second disgracing of his little helper would have on the Ulster peace process.

History would repeat itself, advised Kelly. David Trimble, Peter's unlikely pal, would be undermined. The people of Ulster would not understand why they had to lose their secretary of state in such bizarre circumstances, and accordingly feel marginalised. Blair's insistence that solving the Irish question was a top priority would be exposed as a sham. Trimble could lose his seat, in a shift of popular support to Ian Paisley's DUP that would wreck the Good Friday Agreement. Faced with this doomsday scenario, Blair went ahead and sacked Mandy.

To the St Patrick's Day celebration at the Irish embassy, where a Liffey of Guinness cascades from three bars. A bright young thing asks me to introduce her to Trevor Kavanagh, political editor of the Sun and doyen of the Lobby. OK, he had a bald head and a white beard, but the man in question was Dr Vladeta Jankovic, the new Yugoslav ambassador.

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

This article first appeared in the 26 March 2001 issue of the New Statesman, How the rich rule politics again