The insider - Kevin Maguire stands up for the Venerable Bede

Campbell as swim doctor, a woman's verdict on Milburn, and Gordon's new chinos

The semi-retired spin-doctor Alastair Campbell is to resurface early next month as a swim doctor. Adverts are asking punters to part with £9.50 to hear him explain at a Sandown Park trade fair how to complete a triathlon. At least his "delivering your message" lecture to Labour MPs, scheduled for 22 February, will be free, if curiously assigned to the Grimond Room at Portcullis House rather than the Wilson Room.

Meanwhile recriminations rumble on over Robert Peston's pro-Brown book, with Blairites incriminatingly stating that Ed Balls, the Chancellor's brain, attended Peston's wedding. The same Blairites gleefully add that Peston in 1997 wrongly predicted a euro referendum, triggering a fall in the pound. Talk of a Blair-Brown truce is no more than that - talk.

The forthright style of the Labour election bouncer Alan Milburn continues to offend the sensibilities of some women MPs, who whisper that he makes John Prescott look as threatening as Dale Winton. A story is doing the rounds in north-west England about a conversation between a group of activists and the Home Office minister Hazel Blears, Westminster's only tap-dancing motorbiker. "Very pretty, but nothing between his ears," was her verdict on the assertive campaign co-ordinator.

The cost of a plate has soared to £600 each, or £5,000 for a table of ten, at Labour's annual fundraising dinner on 9 March, when lobbyists, City suits and assorted corporate types will jostle for a word in the PM's shell-like. In another pointer to a May election, letters sent out by the party's Old Queen Street headquarters describe the London bash as a "very special, timely and unique event". At those prices, the description "expensive" should be appended.

The would-be Windsor Tory MP Adam Afriyie has sprung to the aid of the Harlow Conservative candidate Robert Halfon, chief of staff to the shadow chancellor, Oliver Letwin. I disclosed last week how e-mails suggested that a Halfon sidekick intended to ask Lord (Jeffrey) Archer of Lincoln Prison to help fund Halfon's attempt to win his seat. If Afriyie calls on the Windsor blue-rinse brigade to dig deep to send him to Westminster, the retired colonels and battleaxes might care to ask how big was the cheque their man wrote for Halfon.

Gordon of Africa was so unusually talkative on his grand tour that the travelling press pack ran out of questions and was forced to think of excuses to avoid up to five briefings a day. The hacks resorted to placing £1 bets on what the normally sober-suited Chancellor would wear. One reporter tried to gain inside information, asking Brown if he owned a pair of chinos. Brown said he didn't know. Imagine the surprise when he turned up in a new pair the following day.

Civil war has broken out on Tyneside. Jarrow's Labour MP Stephen Hepburn is spearheading opposition to a Boundary Commission plan to move into David Miliband's South Shields constituency the monastery where the Venerable Bede wrote the first history of Anglo-Saxon England. Historians point out Bede was a monk of Jarrow, not South Shields. Moreover, many of the Jarrow hunger marchers also lived in the disputed Bede ward. Blood may yet be spilled.

Kevin Maguire is soon to become associate editor (politics), Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 24 January 2005 issue of the New Statesman, 1 in 5 Britons could vote far right