Brown’s a big softie

Gordon Brown may be a lapel-grabber, pen-stubber and Nokia-thrower - allegedly - but Oop North, where Labour people are really hard, he would be derided as a big softie. Take a recent "voter contact" in Doncaster, when the minister Rosie Winterton led a team to canvass in the Lonsdale Hotel pub. A mouthpiece for Winterton described what followed as a "minor scuffle", which left a troublesome heckler nursing a black eye, and a Labour supporter, who locals claimed to be ex-SAS, studying a police caution. Now that's never happened in No 10.

The Doncaster dust-up helps to explain why Bullygate did Brown no harm. The Lonsdale's manager, one Peter Moran, praised the bloke fighting for Labour votes. There was no sympathy for the victim. "The guy turned around and gave him a walloping. In my opinion, he didn't get as much as he deserved." Eat your heart out, Softie Brown. Hogarthian politics rule in modern Britain.

The word is that "Sir" George Osborne doesn't fancy a three-way TV debate with Alistair Darling and Vince Cable. And who could blame him? Andy Coulson has woken up to the threat of Darling and Cable jointly tormenting his charge over public spending cuts, and favours a straight Darling-Osborne ding-dong. But Darling wants Cable included. It wouldn't be the first time Cabin Boy George has been picked on. As this column revealed three years ago, he was called "Oik Osborne" in the Bullingdon Club because he went to St Paul's - much more downmarket than Eton.

The Labour deputy leader, Hattie Harperson, is the party's official chair. Peter Mandelson is the First Secretary and de facto Deputy PM. Both claim the right to chair Labour's daily press conferences, but only one can. If the dispute is not settled, Brown may have to conduct them himself. With his poor eyesight, that could be a disaster - anyone could be called to ask a question. Labour staffers are watching to see who blinks first in this staring contest.

How to get ahead, old-style, in the new Tory party. Your correspondent is in possession of the auction brochure for a Tory fundraiser a few weeks ago. On offer with the grouse shooting and the tour of Michael Heseltine's arboretum was work experience at Condé Nast and Bell Pottinger PR. Vote for Change: Pay to Work for Free doesn't sound like much of a Tory vote-winner.

I trust Mandelson was being affectionate, calling the baby-faced apparatchiks David Muir and Justin Forsyth Downing Street's Ant and Dec. No 10 officials think Mandy has a touch of Bill Nighy - who referred to "Ant or Dec" in Love Actually. And, whispered my informant, Muir-Forsyth look spookily alike.

Propping up last year's 500 "top" selling current affairs books is Melanie Phillips's Londonistan. Mad Mel sold 30 copies, making less of a splash than Hunstanton Lifeboats, which shifted 31.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror