Alone under the volcano

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WHAT is Montserrat on St Valentine's Day without your heart's desire? Especially when the East Caribbean Tourist Board's new slogan proclaims "this is the perfect place to fall in love". In the line of duty, "Cock Robin" Cook yesterday braved the worst the volcano can do - sans the company of Gaynor Regan, his secretary-cum-mistress-turned- partner. She was originally scheduled to be with him, but the embarrassment caused by so many wives, partners and girlfriends gallivanting round the world with ministers caused a hurried rethink. And just in case he thinks the bad publicity is dying away, enter a new troublemaker in the shape of Iain Dale, proprietor of Politico's, the bookshop/salon hard by Westminster. He has ordered a new range of satirical badges, including "Would you like to be my Diary Secretary?" and "Robin Cook's Sex God". Not very inspired, you might think. "But the John Prescott's Sex God badge was our most popular line during the general election," he trills. "And, besides, all the other suggestions were too libellous." Perhaps the lucky winner of a draw being organised by the ultra-Blairite magazine Progress would be interested. The prize is tea with Robin Cook.

TONY BLAIR'S ministerial prohibition on his government attending England's World Cup soccer matches in June may not prove as effective as he hopes. His lieutenants are already looking for ways to beat the ban.

Leading the way is Charlie Whelan, rambunctious press secretary to Chancellor Gordon Brown. He is a member of the England Travel Club, which Creevey foolishly imagined to be a Home Office fail-safe system to keep people like him at home on match days. So he has tickets for every match, and intends to be in his seat.

This may cause something of a problem. The first match is on 15 June, which clashes with a European summit in Cardiff, when key decisions about the single currency (a matter of passing interest to the Treasury) will be discussed. And so it goes on. No matter, a precedent will be set on the Cup Final day in May, which conflicts with a G8 summit. Who said that the language of socialism is the language of priorities? Perhaps Brown's great project should be renamed Welfare-to-World Cup.

JANET ANDERSON, the Vice Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household, is well titled. Before the general election, she promised that under Labour, women would be more promiscuous. It has not noticeably been so, not even with more than a hundred new female MPs. "Another broken Labour promise," she admits. Ms Anderson, a feisty lady who was once personal assistant to Barbara Castle, is the senior whip often discovered sitting alone in the upper gallery, taking careful notes of what everyone is saying. Fortunately, this is not for a charge sheet for MPs but for her daily report on events in parliament to the Queen. "I write a letter to her every day," the Vice Chamberlain confides to friends. "But she never writes back."

A EURO by-election is looming. Norman West, MEP for Yorkshire South and quondam bagman for Arthur Scargill, is relinquishing the safest ticket to Strasbourg. They weigh the votes in coal sacks up there. Creevey hears that the favourite to succeed is John Mann, national trade union officer for the Labour Party at Millbank. He used to be political officer for the engineering union. Mann faces competition from a legion of district councillors, but in the wake of "Donnygate", New Labour is certain to fight shy of local government, South Yorkshire-style. Expect polling day to be set for 7 May - the day that London votes in its mayoral referendum.

AN ABSURD invitation lands on Creevey's desk, asking your diarist to attend "the launch of what has already been hailed as the magazine event of the year". By whom, one wonders. SELF magazine is claimed to be a highbrow, glossy monthly devoted entirely to Will Self, the man who took heroin on John Major's aeroplane. This "intellectual fanzine", the invitation prattles on, will use "Britain's leading young author" to dissect and discuss every aspect of modern living "and where it's headed" (sic). Its allegedly influential supporters are all called Damon or Damien. The first issue sports a cover picture of Self's cadaverous mug. This sounds like one for lying down and avoiding.

THE theme of Westminster 98, a seminar held last week to interest sixth- formers in politics, was "Why bother?". Some of the participants evidently took this rather too seriously. Margaret Moran, New Labour MP for Luton South (hitherto the fiefdom of John Carlisle, head of the Bedfordshire broederbond), failed to show for Question Time with the students. There was also a no-show from the Young Conservatives in the afternoon session entitled "Why bother with politics at all?". Quite so.

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