David Miliband to soar, a cull of Scottish MPs, and a vacancy in Tunbridge Wells
The ministerial rumour mill is picking up speed at Westminster. The latest version sees Blair's mini-reshuffle in the wake of Robin Cook's resignation as merely the precursor of a more far-reaching cabinet reconstruction. In this, David Miliband, the teacher's pet, zooms up from his middle-ranking position at Education to become Home Secretary. David Blunkett, the gaffe-prone Home Secretary, is demoted to Health. And the Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, who has made such a comprehensive hash of selling foundation hospitals to Labour MPs, returns to the back benches. Such surgery would end the leadership hopes of Blunkett and Milburn. A small, long-shot wager on a Miliband succession could be worthwhile. He is clearly being groomed for something.
They are already calling it the Lowland Clearances, because so many Labour MPs face the loss of their seats in the densely populated central belt of Scotland. Thirteen of the 72 seats are to go, and several cabinet ministers could disappear by order of the Boundary Commission. Gordon Brown's Fife constituency may go, but Scots MPs say that his neighbour, the crop-haired, bull-necked "oh what a lovely war!" defence minister Lewis Moonie, will fall on his sword for him. Alistair Darling could be less fortunate in Edinburgh Central, and is expected to go back to being a lawyer. Some would say he never stopped being one. John Reid, the new Leader of the House, is a definite casualty in Hamilton North and Bellshill, and is reportedly casting envious eyes on the English seat of Blaydon, where John McWilliam has agreed to stand down early to avoid the imposition of an all-women shortlist on his local party. There is even a risk to Helen Liddell, the Scottish Secretary; if it comes to a fist fight with Tom Clarke in neighbouring Coatbridge, be cautious with your bets. The MPs have no one to blame but themselves. Their seats are disappearing as a result of devolution, the absurdly expensive and so far unproven experiment in giving the Scots more government than they need.
Another face unlikely to be seen at Westminster after the next election is Archie "Asda" Norman, once a Tory front-bench high-flyer. Friends say he is disillusioned with politics - or at least what passes for politics in today's Conservative Party. He is already more busy with business than with the unrewarding vocation of trying to get Iain Duncan Smith elected. Who has his eye on Tunbridge Wells? Iain Dale, owner of Politico's bookshop and a local boy, fancies his chances - but will he be "disgusted" enough?
The Tories have chosen 60 candidates for what they risibly call winnable seats, and will choose another 30 after next month's local elections. Alas, too few of the old brutes are quitting. Sir Peter Tapsell is hanging on in Louth and Michael Mates in East Hampshire. The bright young things despair.
Robin Cook is hawking his memoirs around the publishers, by all accounts at an asking price of £500,000. There will have to be an awful lot of shag'n'tell to command an advance of that size. Publishers are wary these days of putting big money up front, because demand tailed off as the public got to know more about new Labour. Jim Naughtie was paid £300,000 for The Rival, his account of Blair v Brown, and it bombed.
Speaking of Cookie, a wise old hand from the Wilson years offered this explanation for Blair's long delay in holding a cabinet reshuffle to appoint a new Leader of the Commons: "Harold liked to keep jobs vacant for a few weeks. That showed the rest they were not indispensable."
Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror