Style over substance

The wheels wobble on Hilary Benn's newly constructed charabanc as he goes down an American route in the quest for the Labour deputy's tiara.

Disquiet is heard on Labour benches over Benn's embracing of the pushy Campaign Company, a lobbying outfit formed by one-time Labour nomenklatura. The use of US-style professional outsiders in an internal scrap triggered a severe bout of tut-tutting, undermining the minister for poor countries' Mother Teresa appeal. His lobbyist friends grew fat on public contracts, including the unpopular shove to privatise council houses. Sceptical MPs mutter that Benn, Jr is Son of Tony, but which Tony?

Boos from guys in red braces at a boozy back-patting night at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London when Red Dave failed to turn up for a PR prize. The slick Tory marketing men behind Brand Cameron feared his anointment as communicator of the year might backfire, turning the spotlight on to style when he wishes to appear substantial. One of the judges voting for Red Dave was Anji Hunter, aeons ago the outgoing premier Tony Blair's finger on the pulse of Middle England. Hunter is now a great fan of Brand Cameron and believes that the Old Etonian, not Big Gordie, is her beloved Middle England's new poster boy.

The socialite David Blunkett's confessional sparked moves within the Westminster lobby for a censure of No 10 disinformation officers. Peter Oborne, the Hate Mail scribbler, is gathering support for a letter of rebuke, since Blunkers disclosed he'd long known of Blair's heart ailment when, in 2003, spinners claimed it was a new condition. The Sheffield Lothario's admission confirmed my view that it is often better to believe things that are specifically denied by Downing Street.

Yellowing hankies were waved in a tearful farewell to Michael Zorbas, spin-doctor these past 18 months to Ming the Mournful. The fast-talking Aussie risked deportation until he left Britain voluntarily because, get this, he was judged insufficiently skilled to secure a visa extension. Ming's indignity is the Robominister's glory, John Reid scoring a rare political point. Perhaps the flyaway spinner explains the bitter edge to Ming's criticism of government migration policy.

Tearoom talk is of Mod Alan Johnson's fearsome beating at the hands of Labour Rockers, Mr Quiffy enduring a kicking over plans to force God schools to admit godless pupils. The bloodfest with 50 revolting MPs, marshalled by the party's left-footers, was the catalyst for his abrupt about-turn dressed up as a deal with the Catholic Church. When hapless Johnson told his tormentors he feared "problems in the Lords", back came a chorus of "You've got problems in the Commons". Bookies marked him down in the leadership stakes, whichever job he runs for.

On to Radio 5, where I bump into the one-time Lib Dem golden girl Jody Dunn, twice defeated by Iain "I'm a local lad, me" Wright in Mandy's Hartlepool backyard. Disillusioned Dunn confided that she's quit the party. The only canvassing she does these days is of those small ads to find a new partner. Proof, if needed, that politics is a lonely business.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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