Jack the Lad and another case of mistaken identity

All the gossip from the Westminster village

Perhaps greybeard Jack "The Lad" Straw should invest in a new pair of spectacles after the minister who once failed to recognise Robert Mugabe missed another international figure. Invited to Wembley to see England play the round ball game, your humble columnist watched The Lad happily take his seat for lunch in the VIP restaurant until an FA blazer announced the day's special guest. The startled expression on The Lad's face said it all when the tanned chap sitting opposite stood up to acknowledge the applause gracefully, for it was José Manuel Barroso, o presidente of the European Commission. My advice to The Lad is: "Next time don't run round the table as fast as Shaun Wright-Phillips, because it gives the game away."

Ming the Mercifully Put Out of His Misery's self-immolation denies us a Liberal Democrat offensive to rival Gladstone's Midlothian campaign. Summoning the party spinner Mark Webster to a counsel of despair, Ming issued battle orders. "I want," declared the now ex-leader, "more op-ed pieces in the Guardian." To think impertinent Lib Dem MPs dared question Ming's stomach for the fight.

Daytime TV hosts could make a few bob on the side. Tory panjandrums have decreed frontbenchers should learn to walk and talk from memory like Citizen Dave. A bigwig lets slip the intention is to stage a Cameroonian lectern-less conference in Brum next October. Pity the tutor who must coach flustered Theresa Villiers (below), a shadow cabinet lady who sounds marginally less fluent in English than Senhor Barroso, who at least has the excuse of being Portuguese.

The tearoom talk is of Tony McNumpty, the brains behind the Home Office, demanding a briefing on hearing that a teenager in Cleveland had shot four people before turning the gun on himself. The police minister calmed down, according to my snout munching the digestive, only when informed it was Cleveland, Ohio. The tearoom has recently, I also hear, become a popular haunt for those discarded Blairites, Stephen Byers, Hilary Armstrong and the Pepsi Kid, Alan Milburn. I wager they're stirring more in there than Tetley's.

Kerching! Congratulations to the "Jarra" Labour MP, Stephen Hepburn, who, I discover, bet £100 there'd be no snap poll with Tim Hames, gung-ho Times scribbler. Well done, too, to one-time Tory researcher Alivia Kratke, recipient, I gather, of a £20,000 cheque (including costs) to settle an employment tribunal claim lodged against the Tory action man David Davis. Personally, I prefer these things out in the open, presumably unlike ex-SAS men, trained to crawl through the undergrowth.

Hacks have returned to the refurbished Commons Press Gallery, where the knob on the ladies' lavatory keeps falling off, trapping inside a procession of women. My advice, girls, is stay calm and don't fly off the handle.

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 22 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Who’s afraid of Michael Moore?