The Insider - Paul Routledge

A premature end to a freebie, the meaning of London Bridge and a little Tory prank reports Paul Rout

The 20 MPs belonging to the Commons football team, who were playing hookey in Japan, miscalculated. As a pretext for watching the World Cup, they organised a game out there, promising the whips that they would return after the Nigeria game, two days late for the reassembling of parliament. Now, following the draw with Nigeria, "Inger-land" have made it to next stage of the World Cup. So the touring MPs will have to watch further matches in Strangers' Bar, along with the Commons goalie, the Labour whip Gerry Sutcliffe, who was banned from the trip.

Meanwhile, the Tory media chief, Nick Wood, ignored the big screen set up in Conservative Central Office, preferring to watch the Argentina-Sweden match in the Marquis of Granby next door.

The rogues' gallery of political caricatures by Martin Rowson in Soho's Gay Hussar restaurant is growing exponentially. Michael Heseltine has graciously deigned to be lampooned, mysteriously as a double act with Sir Brian Mawhinney. But the veteran commentator Ian Aitken "went ballistic", according to one observer, at Rowson's portrayal of him. True, the portrait was not very flattering, but they are not supposed to be. Aitken, a regular at the Gay Hussar since 1953, when he was offered a job on Tribune across the dinner table, was drawn again, this time with a great big smile on his face.

David Triesman, general secretary of the near-bankrupt Labour Party, tells readers of Labour Inside that the party has moved from "expensive accommodation in Millbank to our own head office in the heart of Westminster at Old Queen Street". He does not mention that HQ is now virtually cheek by jowl with St Stephen's Constitutional Club, a Tory joint which is going out of business in one of the capital's most expensive streets. Fortunately, Peter Mandelson has moved out of the neighbourhood, thereby avoiding vulgar observations.

The military operation mounted for the Queen Mother's funeral - which so chagrined Tony Blair by minimising his role - had the code name Operation Tay Bridge. The Home Office's secret plans to mount similar events when other top royals die are also named after bridges. The Queen is London Bridge, the Duke of Edinburgh is Forth Bridge and the Prince of Wales is Menai Bridge.

What strange things one hears in BBC News 24's Straight Talk studio. The former Tory speechwriter Daniel Finkelstein confessed to taking a $100 bet with Lord (Sebastian) Coe on being able to insert the word "lumberjack" (a la the Monty Python sketch) into an address by former leader William Hague in Canada. The Fink smuggled it in by referring to an obscure tree dispute in Hague's Yorkshire constituency that ended in an appeal to John Prescott, then at Environment, Transport and the Regions. Presumably, the Canadian audience did not realise just how comprehensively it was being patronised.

Plans by the Commons authorities to revamp the Lower Press Gallery, a messy area of the Palace of Westminster rarely seen by the public, have come to grief because English Heritage objects to any change to a row of disused Pugin telephone boxes. The oak kiosks are Grade II-listed, even though Pugin died before the phone was invented.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 17 June 2002 issue of the New Statesman, The new Ireland kicks ass