The insider - Paul Routledge listens to rampant Labour sexism

Hacks turn to Savannah Bugle, Labour sexism rampant, and police move on a minister

Tony Blair has, it seems, finally and formally given up "back of the plane" chats with lobby correspondents who go on his global travels. En route to the G8 summit in Georgia, he stayed firmly in his first-class seat, and ignored hacks on the way home, too. Not even his Ulster underling Tom Kelly, the man who described the Ministry of Defence scientist Dr David Kelly as "a Walter Mitty", could be bothered to make an appearance, to the chagrin of journalists who had paid up to

£4,000 for a seat on the aircraft. The change

of policy is clearly the work of the Great Helmsman's new spin-doctor, David Hill, who is determined not to repeat the celebrated in-flight ambush en route to Tokyo that led to the Hutton inquiry.

In a fine tribute to the US-UK special relationship, the Westminster correspondents were accommodated at a hotel 80 miles from the conference. Their only contact was via a 15-minute session with the unctuous Kelly, and that was largely inaudible. The hacks were reduced to plagiarising the Savannah Bugle, pushed under their hotel room doors every morning.

Interesting to note that sexism is not dead in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Reacting to my report that the health minister Jane Kennedy might make it into the cabinet in the forthcoming reshuffle, a former whip guffawed: "The nearest she will get to the cabinet is polishing it." She was virtually within earshot, but that didn't faze him.

Lord (Tom) Sawyer, the former Labour Party general secretary and now a private health industry businessman, has spilled the beans on "Partnership in Power", the deal he did with Tony Blair before 1997 to avert splits between party and government. PiP, he concedes, "could not resolve the different aims of those who agreed it". In the ultra-loyal Progress magazine, he writes: "Tony Blair and those around him at the time" subscribed to the agreement's "inclusive aims but in practice focused on using the process to control the party, excluding those who would dissent and disagree". We all know that, but it is nice to hear the joint architect of this dodgy deal admit it. However, Sawyer goes further, hinting that Blair will not remain leader. The Prime Minister's initiatives on party reform are "drawing to an end", he says, and "whoever takes up the challenge must strike a much more inclusive relationship with the party".

If this is not a coded mission statement for Gordon Brown, my name is not Bletchley Park.

Helen Liddell, soon to take up her appointment as Governor General of Australia, has plainly done her homework on the tedium that awaits her in the outback. While her official residence will be in the federal capital, Canberra, somewhere in the bush, she has told friends that she intends to "have a little flat" in Sydney. Quite so, milady. Altogether more salubrious.

I am advised by my snout in Haringey, north London, that David Lammy, the local MP and constitutional affairs minister, was moved on by police on the steps of Seven Sisters Tube station while leafleting voters on "Super Thursday". He was allegedly causing an obstruction. Yet the fuzz ignored workers for George Galloway's Respect party. This could not possibly have been because Lammy is black, could it?

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror and a biographer of Peter Mandelson

This article first appeared in the 21 June 2004 issue of the New Statesman, The lost tribes