Paul Routledge

Alastair Campbell has apologised to Nick Robinson, the BBC political journalist and presenter of News 24's Straight Talk. Well, almost. Robinson, a former vice-chairman of the Young Conservatives, asked a perfectly straightforward question at a lobby briefing about a William Hague attack on the government. The Prime Minister's press spokesman put on his best sneer, observing that, "I know what the leader of your former party is up to." His remark brought sharp intakes of breath all round, the loudest from Eleanor Goodman of Channel 4. Bearing in mind the number of lobby hacks poached by new Labour, it was a bit rich, and on mature consideration (if that is credible), Ali C wrote to Robinson in tones similar to George Bush's fake regret for the death of the Chinese fighter pilot. "That's the closest thing you are likely to get to an apology," he offered. So, a near miss in Whitehall.

The knives are out for Nick Brown, according to my ex-minister snout. The Minister of Agriculture, who gave up sleep for Lent while fighting the foot-and-mouth epidemic, will be the post-election scapegoat for the crisis that "compelled" dithering Tony Blair to put off the 3 May election.

The tabloids may not make pleasant perusal for Her Majesty these days, but she should still have one good read: a daily report from the Commons, composed by her vice-chamberlain, a senior Labour whip. The minister for tourism, Janet Anderson, used to do the job, perched high in the gallery taking shorthand notes, as befits a former secretary to Barbara Castle. She embroidered the formal record of proceedings with little snippets from the Tea Room, rather to the enjoyment of HM.

When Anderson quit working for the Fat Comptroller, aka Tommy McAvoy, the task went to her successor, the lighthouse-sized Graham Allen, cricket-crazy MP for Nottingham North. Allen, who lists his former occupation as warehouseman, before becoming a research officer for the Labour Party, is less imperious than the Queen, but not noticeably so. He refuses to write the daily report to the Palace, which is now composed by a rota of civil servants. He simply signs their script, according to my snout. And, since civil servants don't have the run of the Tea Room and Annie's Bar, HM no longer hears Westminster gossip straight from her chamberlain's pen.

So who pays for the limousine that brought Peter Mandelson gliding into Speaker's Court the other day? Like the minister manque that he is, Mandy was clutching a box, though these days it's not red but black.

The stentorian voice was unmistakable. Lady (Betty) Boothroyd hailed me in Star Chamber Court. "Isn't that Mr Rrroutledge"? Quivering as ever before the former Speaker, I found her politesse itself, complaining mildly at not having an office in the Lords and not being anybody any more, which is nonsense: her autobiography will be a bestseller later this year. But will she spill the beans about her days as a dancer? The latest intelligence suggests that she had destroyed photographs of her as a Tiller Girl, which doesn't sound right.

Meanwhile, for Easter reading, I have to make do with John Cole's first novel. Cole, now 70, wanted to be a novelist in his early teens, but was seduced into newspapers and then broadcasting. A Clouded Peace is the story of an Ulster-born journalist working in London who is persuaded to quit the trade and return to Belfast as a political adviser to the British government. Naturally, it develops on tragic lines.

John Major is clearly getting very cross with his outta-sight successor, grumbling that the shadow cabinet is stuffed with too many hard-right Eurosceptics. But discreet reports that he snickeringly refers to William Hague as "Jorg Haider" must surely be wide of the mark.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror