Paul Routledge

The sex life of the Blairs receives little media attention, less for reasons of taste than for fear of the lawyers and Alastair Campbell. But that deficiency is to be remedied in Linda McDougall's hour-long television special on Cherie Booth, due to be broadcast on 30 September. Every weekend in their first 18 months after he became an MP, the enthusiastic couple squeezed themselves amorously into a small bedroom in the house of Blair's agent, John Burton. Why the blessed John should have talked to Channel 4 about things that go bump in the night is something of a mystery. What's more, he is spilling the beans to a local reporter for a book to be published by the Northern Echo. Perhaps it would have been wiser to make him Baron Sedgefield after all.

McDougall, aka Mrs Austin Mitchell MP, has also written a biography of Cherie, to come out soon. Making the film has not been easy. Downing Street is never off the telephone to Barry Cox, the deputy head of Channel 4 and a prominent financial backer of Blair's £78,000 leadership campaign in 1994. Recently, McDougall spotted Cox sipping fancy coffee with a Blairite sidekick outside a cafe in Victoria. She impishly accused him of bugging her flat. Harsh words ensued.

Naturally, during her hour of need (not to mention the Labour Party conference), Mitchell is in New Zealand for a month, making a television documentary.

To Granita, the Islington restaurant where the famous misunderstanding between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair was not signed, for the launch of James Naughtie's book, The Rivals, an extended essay on the twin towers of Downing Street. The place has a drab exterior, enlivened by the presence of the Tory MP Peter Bottomley, an unlikely bouncer if ever there was one (he was just holding the door for me, it turned out), and a long, narrow, polished-wood interior.

Two stories from the book deserve a wider airing. In a chapter devoted to "The Project", Naughtie makes the remarkable claim that, two years into a Labour government (that is, some time in 1999), with the joint consultative committee meeting regularly in the cabinet room, Paddy Ashdown "was prepared to contemplate privately the winding up of his party in ten years' time". But 'twas the committee that died, not the Liberal Democrats.

More scrumptious, however, is the disclosure that, after the 2001 election, "it was believed that one junior minister was having an affair which, if it had been revealed, would have been particularly damaging to the government". Naughtie says the minister was not reappointed.

This must be the same rumour doing the rounds before the election that a junior minister was having an affair with a senior No 10 figure, both still being married. Why this would have been damaging to blase new Labour is baffling. The libel laws prevent me from revealing more, but a trawl of unreappointed ministers might be illuminating.

Downing Street's entrepreneurial skills are not dimmed by the onset of war. Lobby correspondents travelling on the Prime Minister's Boeing 777 warmongering tour of western nations had to cough up £3,000 each for the privilege - that is, if they worked for national newspapers or electronic media. Hacks on regional and evening papers could fly Air Lynton economy class for only £900, and great was the gnashing of teeth over this preferential treatment. It is all down to Blair's fond belief that local rags are a soft touch.

He cannot have met Desmond McCartan, political editor of the Belfast Telegraph for the past 27 years, who has just joined Robin Cook, Leader of the House, as his personal spin-doctor on a reputed £70,000 a year.

"Desdemona", as he is known for his sunny disposition (say it slowly), is fiercely independent, the only way to survive in the Ulster cauldron. I cannot see him taking orders from the mandarins, who should be apprised of the dangers presented by the "Antrim lift", a particularly swift and violent means of disabling an opponent.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, What would you do?