Paul Routledge

Elation joined ecstasy on new Labour's banned list on election night. Staff at Millbank were so petrified of anyone outside seeing any signs of joy at the outcome, they put films of silver paper over the windows. And it was grim faces all round for staff on check-in duty for the press pen. One could have been excused for thinking they had lost.

In the interests of objectivity, your columnist repaired to the ITN party at the Atrium, just down the road in Millbank. This watering-hole for lobbyists, political correspondents and occasional politicians was bursting at the seams. Cries of "one more heave", accompanied by fingers down throats, greeted the victory of Peter Mandelson. I can reveal that the winner of the Annie's Bar sweepstake for the number of votes cast for Arthur Scargill in Hartlepool is Jamie Cann, Labour MP for lpswich, who guessed to within 12 votes of his 912 tally.

The general view among revellers was that the BBC had the best coverage, but ITN threw the best party. Champers at 10pm and hot bacon sarnies from three in the morning. One can put up with quite a lot of Jonathan Dimbleby for that.

For the Tories, it was a glum show. Peter Oborne of Another Magazine muttered darkly: "He has to go! He has to go tomorrow!" I think he meant William Hague rather than the tedious chap standing next to him, who was ranting on about Blair's new radicalism.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, watched the results with a certain grim satisfaction. "We haven't connected with young people, or with our heartlands either," he told the NS. "We've held our position, on a very low turnout." Rather like a union election, in fact.

Round at the Tories HQ in Smith Square, a few camera crews waited in the chill night air for Hague to concede. Ladbrokes gave the latest odds on Hague's successor. Portillo was still favourite at 4-5, with lain Duncan Smith at 4-1, Ken Clarke at 5-I and David Davis at 6-1. Boris Johnson, editor of Another Magazine and newly elected Tory MP for Henley, has finally entered the lists, "and somebody's put money on him," I was told. Come on Bozza, own up. It was you.

Maybe the wobbly Tory leader will finally take Sir Peter Tapsell's advice. When William Hague was elected, ramrod straight Tapsell (Royal Sussex Regiment) went to his office and advised: "You're actually quite tall. But on television you look a shorty. If I were you, I'd surround yourself with dwarves."

Outside Lib Dem headquarters round the corner in Cowley Street, a trio of policemen kept each other company. "We hear there's a camera crew coming at four o'clock," one offered disconsolately.

So now we wait for the little dears to return to Westminster. A special lobby has been set aside as a new members reception area to tell second-generation Blair Babes where they can get a subsidised meal or drink and similar information vital to ripping off the taxpayer. The information is sealed down with brown paper, but the serious tip - who not to be seen drinking with in Annie's - will be passed on by the Whips' Office.

The Commons weekly bulletin insists that the Speaker will be chosen on 11 June, the first day back. This cannot be correct, because no business can be conducted until all members have sworn the loyal oath. Presumably, that means Michael J Martin will be re-elected nem con. The Tories are in such disarray that they haven't a candidate anyway.

The future of Martin Bell is exciting discussion after his excursion into Eric Pickles territory in Essex. Why turn his guns on the Bunter of the Tory benches when he could have had Mandelson or Keith Vaz in his sights? The suspicion at Westminster is that a tacit understanding may have been reached between Bell and new Labour, on the lines of "We got you in last time, don't forget. Don't oppose one of ours, and you'll get something after the election." A peerage, perhaps, or a quango.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, There are years of fun to come