The insider - Paul Routledge on the Speaker's unspeakable role

Those 45 minutes again, hung verdict by Blair biographers, and Speaker's unspeakable role

The Butler inquiry report into aspects of intelligence and Iraq may not be the bucket of whitewash that Tony Blair hopes for. Lord Butler has noticed that a number of papers - including the London Evening Standard - highlighted the September dossier's 45-minute WMD warning ahead of official publication. As disclosed here, Downing Street leaked the bogus threats hours ahead of schedule, prompting lurid headlines of imminent attack. The spinners directed lobby correspondents' attention to the 45-minute claim. Butler now wants to speak to the newspapers involved. Perhaps, after the Hutton debacle, the inquiry chief does not relish the sobriquet of Lord Whitewash Two.

Butler was at the Reform Club launch of Anthony Seldon's biography of Blair. He was august, rather than interesting, company. No 10, having co-operated with Seldon in the expectation of a hagiography a la John Rentoul, was aghast that the Brighton College headmaster gave the Great Helmsman a beta-plus. "A missed opportunity," is the burden of Seldon's 700-word tome.

There was much more fun down the road at the Foreign Press Association, where ol' tweedjacket Peter Oborne and Simon Walters of the Mail on Sunday threw a rival bash for their new biography of Alastair Campbell. A good audio show of the great spinner's most appalling soundbites, but no sign of the promised Andrew Dunn, the actor who plays Ali in Rory Bremner's TV show. Guests were "rudely summoned", Campbell-style, with "no jacket required".

Accordingly, half the Guardian turned up, including David Hencke, who is writing a warts-and-all book on Blair with Francis Beckett. They have been denied e-mail access to the Labour leader's contemporaries at Fettes, and inquiries about his A-levels have been treated as impertinence. The Seldon biography does not disclose young Tony's academic achievements, yet the version syndicated in the Mail says he got two As and a C. Mmm. That performance would not win him a place at Oxford.

Extraordinary business. Staff at Westminster are so incensed with high-handed authority that they have addressed Insider as an unofficial ombudsman. A letter from "disgusted staff" takes issue with the Serjeant at Arms's new, status-based limits on access to the Commons terrace. Officer class can take six people on to the terrace this summer, but senior and higher executive officers may use only the southern part, without guests.

"This is not about security," staff argue. "It is just to reinforce their status and gains, which they will do anything to keep." How can the Speaker, as a former trade-union convener, condone such behaviour? Simple. Mick Martin's got the foreman's job at last.

The Liberal Democrats are getting a bit above themselves. Charlie's people (Lord Tim Razzall, in fact) tried to book the St Stephen's Constitutional Club for a press conference and beanfeast. The Tory lunch club was reluctant to kick out other diners just so that the Lib Dems could make "a major announcement". About what? A new Lib-Lab pact? Mind you, the Tories are not much better. They hired St Stephen's for a victory party after the Euro elections, but cancelled a jazz band because they thought it might seem too celebratory.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

This article first appeared in the 28 June 2004 issue of the New Statesman, A dangerous time to be a Jew