The insider - Paul Routledge sees Baroness Jay upstage Clinton

Breakfast with Big Ears, and Baroness Jay steals the show from Bill Clinton and Kevin Spacey

New Labour's leaders did not withdraw the national executive committee statement on Iraq because they had second thoughts about the war. They pulled it because the unions rebelled behind the scenes. The TGWU boss, Bill Morris, was "99.9 per cent happy" with the statement. But his new left-wing deputy, Tony Woodley, led a revolt and the union's delegation unanimously rejected the weasel-worded formula. Unison and the GMB followed suit, compelling the ignominious retreat. Shahid Malik, the only Muslim on the NEC, must have been relieved. He was due to move the statement at the conference.

It went down well with the seagulls, but it bombed in the conference hall. Paul Boateng was seen pacing up and down the seafront, declaiming his conference speech in the cool morning air. But the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was slow-handclapped for his performance. He completely misjudged the delegates' mood, and the chair ignored a note from Christine Shawcroft, a member of the NEC, urging "Get him off!"

Timing is everything. Had Andrew "Big Ears" Marr waited a day to deliver his "sanctimonious shit" tirade to Peter Oborne, he could have done so in the presence of his boss, the BBC chairman, Gavyn Davies, who breakfasted with his wife, Sue Nye, in the Imperial Hotel the next morning. Marr shouted at Oborne: "You'll write anything for money!" Grow up, Big Ears.

Mark Mardell, lard bucket doyen of the BBC's Six O'Clock News, clearly fancies himself as John Sergeant's successor as political editor of ITN. "They haven't approached me, yet," he was heard saying on the conference fringe. "And ITV isn't a very nice outfit. But then, there is a title . . ."

Out of the mouths of babes and BBC presenters . . . An interviewer with Three Counties Radio asked the handsome young Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw if he would "give Edwina Currie one". Bradshaw, probably the most high-profile front bench gay, declined to answer.

The Labour Party's website proclaims that "we welcome your questions" and offers an e-mail address to pose them. Our education correspondent, Francis Beckett, asked for a timetable for the London mayoral contest. The reply? "Thank you for contacting the Labour Party. . . . The Labour Party values all your comments and questions . . . it is not always possible to personally answer your inquiry in detail. However . . . we appreciate the time and trouble people take to contact us. . . . Answers to the questions most frequently asked can be found on our website."

In other words, get lost.

To the glitzy gala dinner in Blackpool, where the guest of honour was ex-President Bill Clinton, who absurdly is still introduced as "president". He was outshone by the appearance of Kevin Spacey, who, I am reliably informed, is an American actor. Spacey did the round of autograph-signing to cooing from lady delegates. But the real star was Baroness (Margaret) Jay, who gestured grandly to Lord Levy, new Labour's top fundraiser, and said: "I see Lord Levy is hiding his face in Kevin Spacey's seat!" It was her best speech since she became a peer, and it brought the house down.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 07 October 2002 issue of the New Statesman, In defence of Edwina Currie, the woman who dared