Whose man in Havana?

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The Independent Online
It would be quite wrong to dig about in Peter Mandelson's past, so let's do it.

The Minister without Portfolio but With Large Cane is keen on discipline when it comes to back-bench MPs, but it appears that the same rules did not always apply to Mandy himself. Sources at Congress House say he was actually sacked from the TUC, where he was a lowly assistant in the Economics Department, for disobeying Lord - then plain Len - Murray, the general secretary.

There was a house rule against running for public office, so "Bobby" was ticked off for becoming chairman of the British Youth Council, an outfit that sent impressionable yoof on all-expenses-paid trips to Cuba. Do it a second year, said Lionel, and you're fired. He did, and he was.

Naturally, Mandy attributes his rapid departure from the Great Russell Street bunker to an altogether more flattering reason: that he had the temerity to advise Prime Minister Jim Callaghan on his strategy for youth (making policy on the yoof?). This also got him in trouble with the Brothers. But it was his brass neck in defying orders that cost him his job. Rebel MPs - should there ever be any in the New Labour parliamentary kindergarten - might cite him as a precedent if they find themselves in trouble.

AS promised, here is a snatch from the alternative Red Flag, composed and sung on the Blair election battle bus by John "Hurricane" Smith of UK News:

The People's Jag is deepest red

It drives straight past our martyred dead.

So wind the tinted windows high

Beneath their shade we'll live or die

Though beggars scoff and homeless sneer

We'll just drive past them all, my dear.

There's more in the same vein, but you get the idea. The Great Leader was ferried around in a magnificent maroon limo. Not the best vantage point from which to observe the poor.

THESE Tory losers are having a hard time of it, and no mistake. Neil "I may have admitted it, but I didn't do it" Hamilton was thrown off the terrace of the House of Commons last week, along with his film crew. And this diary's mascot, Jerry Hayes, who lost Harlow to a Sunday football team manager (well, he looks like one, anyway) was stopped from entering the Palace of Westminster by a policeman.

Only when he explained to the surly McPlod that he had come to clear his desk was the great cabaret artiste allowed in. Fellow politicians were so outraged that a complaint has gone to the Serjeant at Arms.

Then, when he tried to get an ex-MP's pass, Jezza was told by the House jobsworths that he had not served the necessary 15 years. Quite right. He has only done 14 years and a few months. Can't have someone getting something he's not entitled to, sir. Even if he did call Margaret Thatcher a cow.

IT'S all very well Labour flogging off John Smith House, the Walworth Road headquarters until the party went on to Mandytime and moved to Millbank, but what about the thousands of ordinary members who gave pounds 5 to "buy a brick" back in the Eighties? Can we ask for our fiver back - or our brick?

AS Jack Straw would say, if you gave him half a chance, it would be "otiose" to continue with Goodbye Corner, this column's pre-election service to readers disclosing which tedious Tories would lose their seats. Not least because they have all gone to that special circle of Hell - political oblivion - reserved for MPs thrown out by the voters.

But the show must go on. Creevey pondered on the prospect of a Hello! Corner, telling you all about the new intake at Westminster. Ahem! A cursory look at Labour's model army of time-serving town hall dodos and eager- to-please school teachers quickly put an end to that idea.

So try this for size. Creevey will play snakes and ladders each week, so you know who's up, and who's down. Even better, those who think they are on a ladder because they've never seen a snake before.

This week consider the fate of Tom Pendry, the former boxer and chairman of the all-party jazz group, and quondam sports spokesman for Labour. Naturally, he had high expectations of being named sports minister, but Blair gave Tony Banks (Gobsmacked, South) the job over the phone while he was cooking tagliatelle for a BBC crew. House-size hursutist Pendry, who bores for Stalybridge and Hyde, is said to be incandescent, which cannot be a pretty sight.

Maybe he should wait on the touchline. The word is that the excitable Sports Supremo will be taken off before half time. Banks is becoming a little ungallant these days. He nominates Lady Olga Maitland, who lost Sutton and Cheam, as the village idiot of Westminster. "They don't come more stupid than her," he snickers.