Paul Routledge

Hoon blows his top, Straw fears for his seat, and a Press Gallery plan to reveal all (maybe)

An angry Geoff Hoon blew his stack at a Labour Party conference shindig. He approached Bob Roberts of the Daily Mirror, who was chatting to the Northern Ireland minister John Spellar, and lambasted the media for the coverage of the war in Iraq. "It's all hypocritical rubbish," he ranted. "I have done nothing wrong. Anybody who looks at the evidence will see that you only print lies. You forget that there are human beings involved." And much more in the same vein, before he turned on his heel with the parting shot of "you're all liars and hypocrites" - a line stolen from a recent Mirror splash headline. Roberts came away convinced that the self-deluding Hoon genuinely expects to hang on to his job as Defence Secretary.

John "Two Jags" Prescott has upped his personal fleet of limousines to five. They followed his stately pedestrian progress to the conference hall, rather spoiling the point he was trying to make.

The headless chicken syndrome is mightily at work in north-west England. Jack Straw fears that he might actually lose his Blackburn seat because of the BNP's intervention. He has 26,000 Asian voters, and Iraq is playing badly. Next-door Burnley, it is feared, could even go BNP. All the main parties fear that the BNP's Nick Griffin will get a regional constituency in next year's European Parliamentary elections. New Labour's PR polling system guarantees the far right a Euroseat if it takes 10 per cent of the vote. The Lib Dems are taking early evasive action, choosing an Asian lawyer to stand in the region. Saj Karim, 33, born in Blackburn, is billed as "one of the faces of modern Britain". His father was, ahem, a Conservative councillor.

Did you imagine that the ranks of MPs at this year's party conference looked a bit thin? You were right. Some Labour members decided the trek to Bournemouth was not worth it. Especially at £75 per head for a pass to get into the security zone.

Scandalette in the Blue Dolphin Club, whose members reside in Dolphin Square, Westminster, and include MPs. It decided to invite Lord (Jeffrey) Archer to speak about life in prison. "We're not sure that he will be allowed under the terms of his probation to accept, but we'll see," said its newsletter. Shepherd's pie and "decent wine" were promised. Six tenants complained in person. Thirty-six said it was a great idea and one threatened suicide if she did not get a ticket. Archer has graciously accepted.

The Liberal Democrats are targeting Jane Kennedy, one of the comelier (as well as bright) Labour MPs in Liverpool. She has a 12,000 majority in her Wavertree constituency, but it is the home ground of Lord (Chris) Rennard, the Lib Dems' election guru, whose rotund presence strikes terror into the hearts of rival party managers. He has already bagged all the local council seats, and his agents are up to the usual Lib Dem tricks, whispering that Kennedy spends too much time in Ireland. Not surprising, really: she is a Northern Ireland minister.

Informally suggested, at the Commons Sports and Social Club, where sociability reigns and sport is on a large-screen TV: a sequel to Calendar Girls, provisionally entitled Gallery Nudes. The Press Gallery has its fair share of pulchritude, but I am not going to mention any names, since my office window is three floors up.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

This article first appeared in the 06 October 2003 issue of the New Statesman, Who the hell are you?