The charming Lord Irvine

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The Independent Online
VISCOUNT Wallpaper, aka the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, does not confine his insufferable pomposity to the Chamber. He can be just as snooty in the corridors of power. Greeted by a new Labour life peer the other day - a man who has won more democratic elections that the Lord Chancellor has had expensive breakfasts, by the way - His Wallpaperness averted his gaze, stared at the ceiling and passed by without a word of recognition. There's "hard choices" for you!

ACTUALLY, I may be in a position to put some information Lord Irvine's way. It is well known that the palace of Westminster is the world's oldest building site. Since it dates back at least 1,000 years, it makes Heathrow look positively the finished thing. You cannot move without tripping over the detritus of construction.

WHERE there are builders, there are building materials, of every variety. Creevey's snouts say that a word in the right ear will get you a length of Westminster carpet, or wallpaper, or pretty well anything that can be carried out past security. In a van, if necessary. They go by the name of "offcuts". Maybe you could even buy a small piece of the Lord Chancellor's pounds 2,000 a roll wallpaper. Know what I mean?

AN ORWELLIAN experience: evening dress has made its reappearance in the Commons. On the government benches, naturally. Ben Chapman, the former civil service mandarin who took Wirral South for Labour in a sensational by-election last year, sat resplendent on the back benches during the debate on Individual Savings Accounts impeccably dressed in black tie. Obviously on his way to a good dinner. I looked across from the Government benches to the Opposition, and back again. In Westminster's Animal Farm, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the pigs from the farmers.

WILLIAM Hague is leaving his new bride Ffion. For most of this week, anyway. Ole Baseball Cap is going to Brisbane at the invitation of the Australian Liberal Party - their Tories - to address their conference. Despite all he said about quality time with his wife, she is not going with him. Instead, Hague is taking Michael Howard. Not much of a swap, you might think. Still, they can while away the long flight drawing up names for the reshuffled Shadow Cabinet.

JOHN McWilliam, Labour MP for Blaydon, married secretly (for the third time) on Friday. Creevey hopes he has not taken his bride Helena to Oz's Gold Coast for their honeymoon. Fancy meeting Michael Howard on the promenade on your honeymoon?

ANNIE'S Bar, the watering hole for MPs and political journalists which was the subject of an appalling TV film, is on the move again. If a hole can be said to move. From the fetid, windowless tunnel it now occupies, Annie's is migrating whence it came three years ago. Parliamentary topers will sink their subsidised gin and frolic in what used to be David Steel's room. Plus a bit of the old showers area, made famous by Ron Brown and his amorous assistant. So no change there, then. Just the same old shower.

THE Commons Select Committee on Culture leaves today for a jaunt (i.e. a vital parliamentary fact-finding mission) to Seattle. For reasons that still leave your diarist perplexed, the MPs, headed by film buff Gerald Kaufman, hope to visit Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates in his palatial, top-security pad. Don't forget your custard pies, brothers!

TRUTH is barmier than fiction department: Peter (don't call him Bonkers) Hitchens wrote in his Daily Express column last week that the giant figure in the Millennium Dome should be a woman, named Mandy, and the child figure at its feet should be named Kylie. Within days, he was deluged with calls from round the country from mums saying: "I'm Mandy, and my daughter is called Kylie. Can we come and live in the Dome?" Under the benign regime of the Minister without Portfolio, this would presumably be welfare-to-smirk.

THE news that Tony Blair may be considering conversion to Roman Catholicism - while officially denied - came as no surprise among peers at Westminster. They have been the object of a discrete campaign by Lord Longford, the great forgiver, who is drumming up support for Cherie Blair to be made the Dame equivalent of a Papal knight. Alas, Longford appears to be making no greater headway than in his efforts to secure the release of Moors murderess Myra Hindley.

Which is a pity. Dame Cherie could have thrown a party to mark her advent into the Catholic aristocracy alongside that other recent recipient of Rome's pleasure, the papal knight Rupert Murdoch.