Paul Routledge

The People's Tsar cannot bring himself to part with his Rasputin. Peter Mandelson, the disgraced former trade secretary, continues to pay frequent visits to Downing Street. Happily for his privacy, No 10 doesn't have a logbook of who goes in and out, as the White House does, to Bill Clinton's cost.

He advised on the appointment of a new media supremo for the Labour Party to succeed the irreplaceable David Hill, who has gone off to make vast amounts of money in the consultancy world.

As we know, the job went to Phil Murphy, the politically correct Blairite chief of information at the Arts Council. But I am told that John "Mein" Kampfner, hagiographer of Robin Cook and senior political correspondent at the BBC, had an interview with Alastair Campbell and the Prime Minister. Now, getting the job would have been slightly embarrassing for the BBC. Not getting it is a calamity.

The Tories initially planned a protest to John Birt. But they decided their interests would be best served by saying nothing - for now. The party chairman, Michael Ancram, has ordered a monitoring job on curly-haired Kampfner (ex-Daily Telegraph and Financial Times) and the minute he says anything remotely flattering about the boss he never had, Central Office will open up with heavy artillery.

Interestingly, Peter Mandelson has chosen not to invoke his right to make a resignation statement to the Commons, as Geoffrey Howe did so effectively and Ron Davies so disastrously. Presumably, his apologia would begin "I can scarcely believe I am making this statement . . ."

However, according to the usual sources, the ex-trade secretary did not fall on his sword. He was sacked by Blair. So why is the great leader still listening to a politician capable of such poor judgement? And when will we hear from Peter? Responding to an invitation to appear on a local radio programme with your diarist (and his unauthorised biographer), Mandelson snorted: "Never! He is the most despicable person on earth!" Friends are urging me to buy his house - I believe there are only five pieces of furniture in the whole place, plus lots of white carpet - but even if my book does really well, the property is way out of my league, though I am told Mandy will settle for £750,000. Unless, that is, some rich socialist friend can offer me a loan . . .

"Unmediated" is the buzzword of the day. It means getting the Prime Minister's message across to the punters without going through those beastly boys (and girls) in the Westminster lobby. Hence the appearance on the Richard and Judy show and, rather less well known, a chat round the cabinet table for provincial newspapers. Unwisely, Blair thinks they are more stupid than the national press.

At this point, enter Sir Paul McCartney. He wandered into the room by mistake, being on a mission to meet Cherie about breast cancer. "Hi, Prime Minister," said the vocalist. "Hi, Paul," said the great leader. Blair boasted to the assembled hacks: "See who I can lay on for you!" One shot straight back: "John Lennon would have been more impressive." Even McCartney laughed. Over-eager Tony ploughed on: "The great thing about this job is that you get to meet your childhood heroes." At this gauche reminder of his age, McCartney stopped smiling.

Getting away from Westminster to Istanbul the other weekend, who should I meet in rapture-filling Aya Sofia - first a Byzantine church, then a mosque and now a world heritage museum - but William Hague. Flanked by a couple of embassy minders, the Tory leader was gazing distractedly up at a portrait of the virgin and child in the east nave, one of the few to escape Islamic mutilation. Perhaps he was seeking inspiration. It was difficult to decide which of us was the more surprised. He was in town for a meeting of European conservative party chiefs. Presumably they have bigger telephone boxes there. Hague recovered his composure to make a weak joke about politics being "really byzantine" in Turkey. For the record Ffion wasn't to be seen.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the "Mirror"

This article first appeared in the 12 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Kick out the image-makers