Paul Routledge

Judging by their behaviour, the androids (Tony Booth's phrase, not mine) in Millbank actually believe that Labour could lose the election. Here is the evidence. The Press Association, the impartial national news agency, put out a computerised test transmission of the poll results in order to ensure that the system will work on poll night. For the sake of convenience, it was based on votes cast in 1992. As the copy peeled out electronically, Millbank spinnyboppers rang up PA chiefs to demand that it be withdrawn and "corrected" because it showed Tony Blair losing. Bemused agency men pointed out that it was simply a dummy run. Not good enough. Take it off. It went out.

It must be a pretty dull election campaign, because the lady political correspondents (if thus they may be termed) seem to spend most of their time drawing up a list of the 20 "most shaggable men" in the Westminster lobby. Top of the list is white-haired - but well-connected and therefore powerful - Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun. True, he has something of the later Sean Connery about him, suitably attenuated. Second is James Hardy, political editor of the Mirror, a smarter version of Sergeant Lewis. The only other leaked position is Paul Linford, excitable correspondent of the Newcastle Journal, also bald despite his relative youth, who scrapes in at number 17. The moving spirit behind the list is Julia Hartley-Brewer, recently appointed political editor of the Sunday Express, whose fairground style could rule her out of any rival list drawn up by men. Not that they would dare.

One consolation prize for the twice-disgraced Peter Mandelson is that he figures in the Ultimate Fantasy Government. No, not the one chosen by this paper, but by readers of the far-right Freedom Today, journal of the National Association for Freedom. He's up there in the Cabinet with Charles Moore (Prime Minister), Baroness Thatcher (Defence), Christine Hamilton (chief whip, naturally) and Chris Woodhead (Education).

Mandy is chosen as Foreign Secretary because he is a "brilliant diplomat", which will come as news to our man in Damascus who had to clear up Mandy's elephant droppings after he had visited Syria at Christmas. He is further praised as a politician who "earned the respect of all sides in Northern Ireland", a fact that escaped half the population. Then the loonies spoil it all by saying that Mandelson would make "an easy scapegoat if things go wrong". If a chap can't make a few mistakes over passports for Indian businessmen and a £373,000 home loan without getting a reputation like that, what is public life coming to?

If the usual sources are to be believed, Amanda Platell plans to give up the unequal struggle against the Portillistas and quit as William Hague's spin-doctor after the election. She has been rubbished up hill and down dale by Portillo groupies manoeuvring for position in a hoped-for coup by the caring Castilian. The Portillo camp is now said to have reached across as far as Alan Duncan, former press adviser to the Tory leader.

According to friends, gorgeous, pouting Amanda believes her work will be done on 8 June. It's amazing that she has lasted so long. The bitchiness in Central Office far exceeds anything she ever encountered in Fleet Street. Not that she has forgotten her time there. Her new set of glamorous pics is not available to the Mirror, presumably on the grounds that she doesn't want her old job back.

Nobody was louder (in private, naturally) in his protestation that he would not stand down at the election than Gerry Bermingham, outgoing Labour MP for St Helens South. And nobody should question his great affection for his two-year-old son, Franklin. But the handover to Shaun Woodward, the millionaire Tory renegade, looks too pat. Will we see Gerry on the red benches, or made up to QC (he is a barrister)? It will also be interesting to see which street Woodward buys in St Helens, and whether his butler follows him up north.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2001 issue of the New Statesman, A spin too far