Paul Routledge

Labour backbenchers with a clear view of the top of lain Duncan Smith's head during Prime Minister's Questions insist that his dome has a cosmetic cover of matt make-up. "It doesn't shine, unlike William Hague's," one confides. "He is clearly wearing pancake on his pate so it doesn't dazzle viewers of live television coverage." If he is correct, this may explain, in part, the famous IDS frog in the throat. The dust falling from his dome could be irritating his larynx.

Maybe the Tory leader should take lessons in cosmetics from the statutory woman who sits by him when he is at the Despatch Box. Her presence irritates male members of the shadow cabinet, who are peremptorily told to move along the bench by the day's token woman, chosen to give IDS female appeal.

Tony Blair has long been suspected of wearing make-up for his weekly ritual in the House. It must be applied very professionally, because it doesn't shriek like the IDS cover-up. (For the case of IDS and the sweetie, see Jackie Ashley.)

My Labour Party membership card for 2002 comes with an extraordinary computerised begging letter from Comrade Blair. "After the general election, party funds are critically low," he writes. "Any donation you can afford to give in addition to your membership fee would be greatly appreciated." What, fled so soon, all the super-rich bastards who bought the election?

The hand of Peter Mandelson has been detected in the media furore whipped up against Mark Bolland, spin-doctor to Prince Charles. The two were very good friends, but Mandy is jealous of Bolland's success in modernising the Prince of Wales. This, along with the investigation by Elizabeth Filkin, the Commons sleazebuster, into the financing of Mandelson's recent speaking tour of Hong Kong, cannot help the campaign to draft him as HM Ambassador in Washington, in the role of the Peter Jay de nos jours.

Mandy's pal Matthew Taylor is inviting well-heeled thinkers to stay with him during the Labour conference in Blackpool next year. Taylor, head of the lPPR think-tank, has hired a hotel that will be renamed Policy Place for the duration. Sponsors will get themed rooms where they can chill out or, in Mandyspeak, "have some serious brain-warming".

Bad blood in the Northern Ireland select committee. Michael Mates, the Tory chairman, is throwing his weight around too much for the liking of Labour members. He wrote a draft report on aggregates (rubble, I think, rather than voting groups), which harped on government "failure" and "incompetence". It will have to be redrafted. He is also demanding that the committee investigates the funding of terrorism in the province. Mates, a former Ulster minister, flatly rejected any idea of Andrew Hunter, the hardline unionist chairman of the Tory back-bench Northern Ireland committee, joining his outfit. Perhaps the select committee itself needs a peace process.

While it is true (see my 26 November column) that David Blunkett dines a deux with two top tabloid editors, Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail and David Yelland at the Sun, further and better intelligence suggests a difference in emphasis in the Home Secretary's standing. While Yelland thinks the sun shines out of Blunkett's trousers, Dacre is less trusting. The influence of Gordon Brown is detected here.

It seems that Annie's Bar, the spiritual home of this column, has been saved. Dennis Turner, the affable Black Country chairman of the Commons Catering Committee, has been consulting widely among MPs, members of the press lobby and officers of the House. They alone are allowed to drink in Annie's. Conclusion: the bar will be relaunched, possibly by a celebrity, with two draught beers. Unfor-tunately, it will be in the same dungeon it currently occupies. Proposals to take over the Lady Members' Room foundered on the rock of political correctness.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 10 December 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Special Report - The great Koran con trick