The insider - Paul Routledge reveals a crease in a Commons sofa

A welcome back for Ken, a mysterious crease in the sofa, and an MP's tears in Tel Aviv

Discreet moves are afoot to avert a new Labour catastrophe in next summer's election for London mayor. On present form, the rich but unelectable Nicky Gavron will come behind Ken Livingstone, the Lib Dem Simon Hughes and the Tory Steven Norris. So MPs are talking to Ian McCartney, the Labour chairman, about allowing Ken back into the fold as the party's candidate. Dear, sweet Nicky would quietly be dumped, with the consolation prize of deputy mayor. A classic new Labour stitch-up.

The atmosphere at party conferences is often said to be febrile, but in Blackpool, where bitching Tories inundated the media with bile about Iain Duncan Smith, the adjective was correct. One senior party manager said he feared that a delegate might go to the rostrum and demand a new leader. Would the speaker be greeted with jeers or cheers? And would the stewards remove him/her or remove IDS? Michael Howard is the favoured assassin. Unusually, he did not show drafts of his "leadership" speech on Wednesday to close aides in advance.

At the New Statesman party in Bournemouth (where else?), I heard from a lady MEP that the next British commissioner in Brussels will be Helen Liddell, rather than the twice-disgraced Peter Mandelson. "She's a woman and she's very pro-Europe" is intoned in her support. Devoutly to be wished, maybe, except that Labour could not survive a by-election in her Airdrie and Shotts seat.

Private, but official. "Junket" Jack Cunningham made clear to Blair that he did not wish to leave the Commons to become Leader of the Lords, so the job went to Baroness Amos.

Stephen Pound, garrulous MP for one of those west London suburbs, found a green three-piece suite in the corridor of Norman Shaw North, the parliamentary warren by the Thames. "Could I have it?" he asked the authorities. "No, it is Sir Anthony Steen's," he was told. "He has just taken delivery of some pink furniture, and wants to give it a week's trial before getting rid of the old suite." Which reminds me that Lord Fowler (then plain Sir Norman) once summoned the Commons accommodation officer to his office and pointed to a fine piece of upholstery. "There, see that crease," he thundered. "I don't sit like that. Someone has been sitting in my chair." As the poet e e cummings observed:

a politician is an arse upon

which everyone has sat except a man.

Tears in Tel Aviv. While visiting the city, the Parliamentary Israeli Group heard of a new raft of PPSs. The foghorn-voiced Chris Bryant, the gay MP for Rhondda, who fancied his chances (indeed, still does), burst into tears on hearing that his name had not been picked.

David Walter, the former TV journalist who is now director of media communications for the Lib Dems, is quoted on the back of his new book, The Strange Rebirth of Liberal England: "I do not forecast that the Liberal Democrats are at last poised to break the mould of British politics. I do believe, however, that history demonstrates that the circumstances may be more favourable for them to do so than ever before." This cautious assessment reminds me of the classic Young Liberals' marching chant: "What do we want? Proportional representation! When do we want it? In due course!"

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

This article first appeared in the 13 October 2003 issue of the New Statesman, The awakening of liberal England