Paul Routledge

Support for David Blunkett to succeed Tony Blair as Labour leader has come from an unexpected quarter - erm . . . Iain Duncan Smith. At a private dinner for women members of the Westminster lobby, the Tory leader swerved off his subject and began praising Blunkers. "Absolutely wonderful chap. Streets ahead of his rivals in the cabinet. Clearly the right man to lead his party." You know the sort of thing that happens, when a male politician is surrounded by pretty women late at night in a London hotel. The judgement goes.

But then IDS followed this tirade of compliments with an admission that the pair of them have had dinner, and more than once. At this point, noisy stares from his aides brought his digression to a close. No further information. No dates for these discreet tete-a-tetes. No times. No places. I think we should be told.

Tony Blair as Che Guevara? Prepos- terous maybe, but coming soon to a bookshop near you none the less. The Great Helmsman is transformed into the Latin American guerrilla, complete with revolutionary beret, on the cover of a reissue of Peter Mandelson's unreadable tome The Blair Revolution. Quite what readers will make of this red and black image, suggesting that Blair is a wrecker rather than a reformer, I do not know.

Mandy has contributed a 10,000-word new chapter to the book, allowing its publisher, Politico's, to give it a fresh, catchy title, The Blair Revolution Revisited. It will appear on 1 May, the fifth anniversary of new Labour's first election victory.

On the debit side, 30 pages found to be missing from Martin Westlake's respectful biography of Neil Kinnock deal largely with Mandy. I blame the wreckers.

To Cardiff for Labour's local government and women's conference. My, how they hate in the principality! Rhodri Morgan, the Welsh First Minister, temporarily forsook his flu sickbed to open the conference, simply to deny a platform to Russell Goodway, the flamboyant £50,000-a-year Lord Mayor of Cardiff. The Goodway problem also vitiates plans to hold Labour's annual conference in the city's new International Arena because, traditionally, the mayor welcomes delegates in the opening speech. The press would also prefer to stay away if the party can't improve on the media centre - nicknamed Camp X-Ray - which had no phones and no television.

How did the great "wreckers" debacle happen? Simple. Steve Byers started it with a mention of wreckers in his speech, later briefing the hacks that he included the unions in new Labour's demonology. Next, Matthew Doyle, Millbank's teenage spin-doctor, fell into an elephant trap prepared by lobby reporters, confirming that Blair would also open fire on the comrades. By the time he had been told to withdraw the briefing, it was up and away.

John Edmonds, leader of the GMB general union and better known as "Treble Chins", is the main figure in Downing Street's sights. Interestingly, a minister tells me that the GMB's regional secretaries, the traditional warlords of the union, have slapped Edmonds down with a warning that they will not tolerate his threat to fund non-Labour candidates.

Bernard Ingham would never have been seen dead at a Tory party conference. But Alastair Campbell was on hand to explain away Blair's speech in Cardiff. "Who's paying your wages today?" I asked Big A. "You are, Paul." From my taxes, or my £16-a-year party subscription? Taxation, presumably, though the insults come gratis.

Barbara Windsor, the EastEnders star, has been asked to reopen Annie's Bar, spiritual home of this column. But the BBC authorities may stop her, and MPs are talking about replacing her with Westminster's very own Barbara Windsor. They mean Rosie Winterton, petite blonde bombshell for Doncaster Central and former aide to John Prescott. There, I'm afraid, the comparisons must cease.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Take cover: evil is back