The insider - Kevin Maguire meets a Lib Dem on a raw garlic diet

A Lib Dem's pungent diet, the sex scandal that wasn't, and the atheist who found a soul

To an art gallery in central London for drinks with Charles Kennedy, who keeps a vice-like grip on a glass of orange juice. The Lib Dem battle bus is booked, with routes mapped out to 50 stops during the four-week election frenzy. Kennedy plans to fight a traditional campaign, fronting a daily 8am Westminster press conference before climbing aboard the coach. He will mingle with hacks, he notes, while it is likely teams of minders will shield Tony Blair and Michael Howard. But he is miffed by a report that his attempt to give up smoking has left him resembling another well-rounded redhead, Henry VIII. The latter, points out Kennedy, never had to kick the weed, because Sir Walter Raleigh did not bring it from the New World until Elizabeth I's reign. Kennedy's spokesman on young people, thirtysomething Lembit Opik, discloses details of his own pre-election diet. It involves four cloves of raw garlic and a glass of virgin olive oil per sitting. The gallery swiftly empties.

Westminster gossip grows over the future of Lynton Crosby, Michael Howard's Aussie attack dog. In the Strangers' Bar, they wonder if he will fly back Down Under to avoid his political consultancy being tarnished by Tory failure. Fraser Kemp, who is masterminding Labour's guerrilla war, claims Crosby and the Tory party co-chairmen, Liam Fox and Maurice Saatchi, are like three bald men fighting over a comb. Advised to look in the mirror, the follicly challenged Kemp complains irony is no longer appreciated. But Crosby's fate could be hastened by a force beyond his control. He is about to hear the five most feared words in election lexicography: "Michael Crick is in reception."

Sunday's papers came and went without details of a sex scandal involving a cabinet minister, which had been predicted all week by some supposedly upmarket public prints. The source of the speculation was Dominic Cummings, the Portillista strategy director shown the door by Iain Duncan Smith (remember him?) and now director of the New Frontiers Foundation think-tank.

Or did Cummings think Chris Smith's decision to announce in the Sunday Times that he is HIV-positive was a sex scandal? The former culture secretary said he was moved to go public by the death of Nelson Mandela's son. Interestingly, the rag first approached Smith two years ago after a hospital tip-off. The retiring MP promised them the "exclusive" before he stepped down.

Meanwhile, the Tory MP-turned-Times political columnist Matthew Parris has resisted huge sums dangled before him by the Independent, Telegraph and Guardian to lure him from Uncle Rupert. Peculiarly for an atheist, Parris appears to believe the Times has a soul.

Frustrated at the lack of progress with the GMB, the Transport & General Workers' Union leader, Tony Woodley, is ready for merger talks with Amicus. Once left-right foes, the two unions are now united in criticism of new Labour. The proposed two million-strong baby would give both Blair and the TUC chief Brendan Barber a headache. What would

it be called? One suggestion is: The Union.

Westminster watering holes face a ban on smoking. Strangers', which opens on to the terrace, is to be smoke-free - but the windowless Annie's Bar will stay foggy.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the 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 07 February 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Push here