Paul Routledge

The Martin Sixsmith-Jo Moore scandal has been unadulterated joy for political hacks engaging in the new Olympic sport of symmetrical scalping. These are the times of the best rumours, viz, that Sixsmith applied to the Foreign Office (Very Interesting Work Section) after leaving university. He was told, so the story goes, to get a job with the BBC instead and drop in for an occasional chat. He was duly sent to be the BBC's man in Moscow, from where a previous Beeb correspondent had been expelled after being accused of spying. The idea that Sixsmith was a spook is faintly risible. He talks too much, as listeners to the Today programme will attest. But the gossip gave rise to one good joke: that his real name is M I Sixsmith.

By the way, the text of Sixsmith's smoking e-mail, which came into the Mirror office in a brown envelope, may not have been word-perfect, but it did contain all the essential ingredients - including "burying", "Princess Margaret" and "Friday". If it did not come from Steve Byers's communications chief, it certainly came from a "friend". The message recorded that civil servants at the Department for Transport were reading the e-mail with glee.

Tony Blair walked into the Strangers' Bar in the Commons the other night, looking for all the world like a little boy in a big toyshop. "I haven't been in here for years," he told bemused topers. "What are you doing here?" he asked the Blairite backbencher Helen Clark (nee Brinton), an inquiry that many would find superfluous. He asked me the same question, even more de trop, though he may have assumed that I would be in Annie's. Blair, accompanied by Cherie, drank a pint of lager and left after about ten minutes. His appearance was put down to the assumption that even the Kremlin (as Strangers' was known in the heyday of NUM-sponsored MPs) was more attractive than the Mersey Week celebratory bash he was attending along the corridor.

"Some day my plinth will come . . . !" While the argument rages about placing Lady Thatcher's statue inside the Palace of Westminster, a cheeky MP put this Spitting Image rubber Maggie on an empty plinth close to the Commons. A policeman left it there for half an hour until it was removed - but not before your columnist got this shot.

Just how cruel can people get? A Stop Simon Buckby campaign (SSB) has been started, with the clear aim of preventing him securing a parliamentary constituency. Buckby, ex-BBC and the FT and currently running the Britain in Europe lobbying outfit, seems to have made a lot of enemies. The SSB is collecting information and testimony for circulation to any constituency Labour Party where he applies. An e-mail inviting factual contributions (excluding his private life) has gone out, promising luridly: "We have begun to build up a database of relevant contacts in important CLPs." The address is, so some computer nerd should be able to track down the anonymous plotters.

T his titbit comes from those who ought to know: the television producers. David Blunkett dyes his hair. This is deduced from the evidence of make-up artists, who noticed that his beard is greying but his hair is pristine black. Not that there is anything wrong with a bit of Mandelsonian retouching of nature. After all, Blunkers is only keeping in step with the Prime Minister.

The writer is chief political commentator for the Mirror. His Public Servant, Secret Agent, on Airey Neave, is out this month

This article first appeared in the 04 March 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Lord Snooty and his party pals