The Tories play it Coulson

Andy "I Knew Nothing" Coulson is feeling the strain.

David Cameron's spinner, Andy "I Knew Nothing" Coulson, is feeling the double strain of plummeting polls and that beastly telephone-tapping business, which refuses to go away. An eagle-eyed snout spied the former News of the Screws editor in Portcullis House, executing what looked suspiciously like an attempted barge on Tommy "Two Dinners" Watson. The Labour MP is a thorn in Coulson's side, regularly asking on the floor of the House about the bugged calls, of which Coulson maintains he was unaware. Had Watson not interrupted a mobile phone conversation of his own to sidestep the oncoming Coulson, there would have been carnage. Watson is a Labour heavyweight; the snout mused it was like watching a 40-tonne truck narrowly avoid a speeding Mini.

Coulson is having a bad run, all told. He got a flea in his ear when he rang Lord Bell of Bell Pottinger to demand the blood of the lobbyist Peter Bingle. As you may recall, the shadowy right-winger Bungle's "Musings of a Tory in despair" were leaked to Channel 4. Alas for Coulson, whispered my informant, Lord Bell sided with his hireling and also criticised the campaign. Bungle has a particular interest in a Con recovery. He told clients Labour was finished a couple of years ago, when he switched the firm's champagne reception, with great fanfare, to the Tory conference.

The Talibrown fears its luck is about to change for the worse: the US political consultant Bob Shrum has been visiting No 10. The veteran American loser - the failed presidential bids he has worked on include those of Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry - is widely mocked as a curse. Yet Shrum exerts a Svengali-like hold over Gordon Brown. His critics in Downing Street complain that he tells the PM what he wants to hear, rather than what he needs to hear. But one Talibrown diehard admitted that Shrum was useful: he can always be blamed when things go wrong.

Did Cameron really say "I love your 'Hoover'" to James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner designer? So the Tories are whispering.

To Brum for the Lib Dems' spring jamboree, where Nick Clegg sounded as croaky as a 40-a-day puffer. In the hall, anxious aides listened to the big speech, worried that their meal ticket's sandpapered throat would stop working altogether. The strain on the leader's vocal chords is blamed, one of the Cleggies tells me, on the boss's flat refusal to have voice coaching. The pretty posh former Westminster schoolboy fears that he would turn into a Cameron-lite echo of the top-drawer Old Etonian. It could be worse. Clegg might have ended up taking lessons from whoever taught Estuary English to the aristocratic Sam "Somethink" Cam.

As Tory fortunes wane, the portly Eric Pickles has become the butt of some cruel jokes. Apparently, the police received a prank call maliciously linking Pickles to a drugs stash: the party's paunchy chairman had bent over and exposed 42 kilos of crack.

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