The insider - Paul Routledge predicts IDS's early exit

Iain Duncan Smith flatlines; boycotting Bloomberg parties; Benn dozes off

Regime change is back on the agenda. No, not in Baghdad. In Smith Square. After his lustre-free performance in the Iraq debate, question marks are again hovering over Iain Duncan Smith, with a senior ex-minister saying the Tory leader must go if his party is still flatlining after the council elections in May. It would only take 25 Tory MPs to trigger a vote of confidence in IDS, and then 84 voting "no" to force a leadership election in which he could not stand. There cannot be a John Major-style "back me or sack me" manoeuvre. "We've backed him. Now we should sack him," said one MP.

In last week's column, I asked if the GMB general secretary, John Edmonds, had obtained a cosmetic eye operation on the private sector. I accept his assurances that he had a serious medical condition, and that the treatment was on the NHS; I regret any suggestion to the contrary.

The diminutive comic Sandy Toksvig, a great catch for the Lib Dems, enlivened a "Britain in Europe" conference fringe bash with a story about her Danish father. He attempted to be as English as the English by telling a Danish audience that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak". In translation, it came out as "the vodka is good, but the meat is off".

Coloured perspex invitations are showering on Westminster from the Bloomberg news agency. The first, in the shape of a CD, was for drinks at the Lib Dem conference. The second, complete with swizzle-stick (appropriately), is for the Labour bash. And finally comes an invite in the shape of a posh hotel key for the Tories. Enough perspex to fit out the RAF. Is this the same cash-strapped agency that got rid of its lobby correspondent, David Healy, because his long experience did not come cheap enough (though its founder had money to buy the votes of New Yorkers and become Mayor Michael Bloomberg)? In fraternal support, I shall boycott the Bloomberg parties and entreat anyone with half a conscience to do the same.

Yuckiest press release of 2002, from Debra Shipley MP. Friends invited to the "birthday party" of her chap, Simon Molesworth, were "very surprised to discover that they were, in fact, at the couple's surprise wedding reception", quaffing champagne and consuming pink and white biscuits cooked by the bride. The pair had married at Chelsea Register Office, where the bride wore a pink dress bought in her Stourbridge constituency, with a pink hat and pink suede handbag and shoes. "The groom wore a pink tie made by the bride!" gushed Ms Shipley. I bet he did.

A footnote to my item on the Joint Committee for the Reform of the House of Lords, which met over wild wine and red mushrooms (perhaps that should read red wine and wild mushrooms). In a state of post-prandial relaxation, MPs and peers examined their diaries for their next convivial bout of reforming. Labour members were happy to avoid the week of the Tory party conference, assuming that Lord Howe, William Hague, Michael Forsyth, James Arbuthnot et al would all be in Bournemouth. All Tories present, however, confessed they would not be going anywhere near the place.

Who said "I write diaries. I don't read them"? Tony Benn - who further confesses: "I find it difficult to read now, I just find I doze off."

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2002 issue of the New Statesman, The Reckoning