The insider - Paul Routledge uncovers a gang of plotters

New union plot revealed, thin Scot tipped for fat Scot's job, and another Blair U-turn

A new Gang of Four is meeting secretly to plot the political downfall of new Labour. Derek "Del Boy" Simpson, of the engineering union Amicus, Tony Woodley of the TGWU, Kevin Curran of the GMB and Dave Prentis of Unison have formed a quadrumvirate to drive Labour into a "radical, third-term manifesto" that will "re-engage the party activists". They have already held one gathering of affiliated union leaders, where traditional-style amendments for documents going to the 24 July national policy forum were discussed. "If we don't get them through, we'll bring them back to the Brighton conference," warned one of the plotters. "We want a manifesto that is popular - and will also get our people out on the streets working." Which is precisely the opposite of Downing Street's wishes.

Trouble at t'mill in Great Russell Street, I hear. Brendan Barber, only a year into office as TUC general secretary, is "not on all fours" (as the late, great Len Murray would have said) with his ambitious deputy, Frances O'Grady. Barber has ventilated the power struggle in talks with MPs, who are dismayed that the old carthorse has got its withers in a twist. They admit, however, that Congress House is still largely unmodernised, surely a point to Ms O'Grady, a former campaigns officer with the TUC, who led the "new unionism" strategy, to no great discernible effect.

It is generally accepted, without any hard evidence, that Ian McCartney's reign as Labour Party chairman is drawing to a peaceful close. Douglas Alexander, the Brownite minister, is bruited as a successor, but that just installs a thin, diminutive Scot in place of a fat, diminutive Scot, albeit the all-time winner of the Jimmy Knapp Memorial Rosebowl for Elocution. The Treasury minister Ruth Kelly is mentioned as first female chairman, but she is far too ambitious. Ditto Peter Hain. Maybe the pointless post should be abolished.

Sometimes the Lib Dems are too damn competent for their own good. In the Leicester South by-election campaign, activists telephone-canvassed the widow of Jim Marshall, the Labour MP whose sudden death triggered the poll. There is a macabre side to that otherwise nice, abacus-brained Lord Rennard.

Plainly smarting at my disclosure that he had abolished back-of-the-plane chats with lobby correspondents on his globetrotting, Tony Blair has discreetly gone back to the old system. Almost. Until the debacle of the David Kelly in-flight panic, the Great Helmsman used to talk on the record to his flying Westminster circus. Now he speaks off the record, as he did on the plane back from the Nato summit. Another U-turn.

Jo-Anne Nadler, the rather fetching biographer of William Hague and self-styled "woman about town", has penned an autobiography, Too Nice to Be a Tory. It opens with an entry from her diary in May 1979, when she was 12: "Went to school late today after morning off with period pains (Ugg)." Gentlemen of a certain age are excused further perusal. Meanwhile, I hear the Tories are negotiating to return to Blackpool for their 2005 conference, in contrast to Labour's boycott of the resort. This will surely come too late to win back any of the marginal seats in the north-west.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror

This article first appeared in the 12 July 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Palestine - Who are the Palestinians?