The insider - Paul Routledge finds shirtsleeves banned

Brown orders hard work, MPs could move to Oxford, and Speaker bans shirtsleeves

Exhausted Treasury and Trade ministers hoping for a quick getaway for the summer recess on 23 July have drawn short straws. Instead of jetting off to the sun, they must attend a meeting of the Gordon Brown Conspiracy in Warwick over the ensuing weekend. Perhaps that should read "Economic Policy Commission". The sole item on the agenda is Irn Broon's economic and business policy paper, for on-passing to the party conference. "Just what we need at the end of a hard year," grumbled one minister. "The stroppy tendency had better not try any amendments." But union leaders, including the Amicus lefty Derek Simpson, will be attending, so expect some bad-tempered exchanges.

Senior Labour figures believe that the government may lose both by-elections on 15 July, despite defending majorities of 11,600 in Birmingham Hodge Hill and 13,200 in Leicester South. That would explain Tony Blair's indecent haste to hold the polls. The voters have a habit of punishing Labour when their MPs jet off to a cushy number in Europe, as Hodge Hill's Terry Davis is doing. David Marquand lost a mining constituency in Nottinghamshire in this manner.

MPs have been told by the Serjeant at Arms that if the Commons (or the Lords) cannot sit in their usual chambers because of terrorism, alternative locations are planned in London and the provinces. This has given rise to much speculation, with Oxford University as the favoured candidate. Absolutely, old boy. Much more agreeable than Warrington or Barnsley.

Meanwhile, members of the Press Gallery have been instructed by Speaker "Metal Mickey" Martin that they must wear a jacket in the chamber. The usual summer indulgence allowing shirtsleeves was rescinded "with instant effect", allegedly to create uniformity of sartorial turnout in the Commons. So why does Martin do nothing about Jeremy Corbyn's woolly jumpers?

Tony Blair says he is keen to separate reality from myth in the Euro-constitution debate. A spat over his own mythologising is under way in the London Review of Books. The Cambridge politics lecturer David Runciman wrote that Tony "was a Tory" when he went to Fettes in 1966, and was influenced by the "folk memory" of Hugh Gaitskell being burned in effigy for his opposition to the Suez venture ten years earlier. Nonsense, riposted Richard Clogg (St Antony's, Oxford), who was at "the Eton of Scotland" at the time and has no recollection of the incident.

However, Clogg concedes, this story will become part of the Blair canon of myths, joining the fib that he stowed away on a flight from Newcastle to the Bahamas to avoid going back to school (no such flight existed). He might also have added the myths of young Tony watching Jackie Milburn from the Gallowgate End at Newcastle United (he was two at the time, and the stand had not been built), of him once sleeping rough (romantic, but untrue) and that he was once known as Dobbin, because he is so well-hung (inadequate verification).

This article first appeared in the 05 July 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq now has the keys, but do they work?