The insider - Paul Routledge names the nudist at the Guardian

Dubbya's joke revealed, the nudist at the <em>Guardian</em>, and a tip for the mayoral election

New Labour's tedious refrain that "no decision" has been made on war is almost daily and comprehensively given the lie - by the Ministry of Defence. While Geoff Poltroon, the Defence Secretary, was skiing with his children (there goes that cynical use of kids again) in the Alps, his senior officials were briefing news managers of television and radio stations and the newspapers, about who could go where and with whom when the order to attack Iraq is given. Naturally, the media most supportive of Field Marshal Blair will get the best opportunities, but nobody came away from the MoD briefings confident that the Americans will allow British journalists anywhere near the real action.

Belatedly, but factually, I hear that George Dubbya phoned the Great Helmsman on the eve of his State of the Union address. "I'm gonna say: 'Let's nuke Saddam!'" he confided. Blair choked down the phone, until Bush roared with laughter at the joke. At least, I think it was a joke.

Labour MPs find it hard to see the funny side. They were all paged at lunchtime on 21 February with instructions to be in the Chamber on Wednesday 26th for a three-line whip on a motion on Iraq that said . . . well, they were not told what it would say. Just turn up, shut up and vote.

The kitchen must be getting hot. Christopher Leslie, the ambitious former photocopier for Gordon Brown's staff who now knocks down £82,624 a year as a parliamentary under-secretary in the Deputy Prime Minister's Office, is refusing to go on radio chat shows. On receiving a request the other day, he bleated: "No! Please, no! Aren't we in enough trouble already?" Good to know that the subalterns are in such strong spirit as war approaches.

Bernard Jenkin, the whingeing nudist shadow defence secretary, had better smarten up his act. Conservative Central Office laid on a briefing where he was star billing to address prospective Tory candidates. They were told to be on parade at 7pm sharp, as his time is precious. They waited and waited, and Captain Jenkin turned up three-quarters of an hour late. It could have been worse. He might have invited them all to go skinny-dipping, as he did with lobby correspondents on a memorable trip. Only one hack, Nicholas Watt of the Guardian, joined him in the nude. The rest of the prudish parliamentary pack kept their swimmers firmly on.

For the second time, it looks as though the cruise missiles will begin raining down on America's enemy just as the Tories begin their spring conference. Last time, Cap'n Jenkin had to turn back from Blackpool when the carpet bombing of Afghanistan began. This year, the Tories gather in Harrogate on 14 March, the most likely starting date for war against Iraq. "The conference will go ahead," he assures me. "But we may have to change the agenda." Hoot if that amuses you.

To St John's Smith Square, for a magnificent rendition of Vivaldi's Gloria and Faure's Requiem by the Parliament Choir, and to dinner afterwards with the Lib Dems. To my right (in every respect) is Lord (Chris) Rennard, the party's justly feared electoral tactician. He predicts that second-preference votes will narrow the field for London mayor to Ken Livingstone and Simon Hughes, putting the Tories and Labour in third and fourth places. We shall see.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

This article first appeared in the 03 March 2003 issue of the New Statesman, What has America ever done for us?