The Insider: Knives out for Labour's Chairman, Straw Runs Hard, and More on Those 45 Minutes

Article excerpt

Amid the debacle of Labour's divorce from the RMT rail union, questions are being asked. How can the party hierarchy take seriously anyone who, like the RMT general secretary, Bob Crow, wears a baseball cap? More pertinently, how much has the abrasive style of Labour's cabinet-ranking chairman, Ian McCartney, contributed to the mess? One fellow Scots MP calls him "a bit of a nebbie"--tartan-speak for an aggressive wee fellow. In yer face, or, in his case, in yer waist.

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With similar rumblings in the Fire Brigades Union and Communication Workers Union, it is being suggested that McCartney ought to be replaced. But by whom? Blair has exhausted the list of hard men (John Reid, Charles Clarke), and they did not exactly excel in the job. Some backbenchers want a more emollient figure who will stroke the unions in the general election run-up.

Spotted in the Quirinale restaurant, hard by Smith Square: the chief whip, Hilary Armstrong, consulting her watch with increasing rage. Finally she walked out, snapping: "Nick Robinson! That's the last time he stands me up!" Oh dear. The former Young Conservative turned ITN political editor has yet to learn the ways of Westminster.

In an unwonted fit of generosity, the Labour whips' office has offered two of the tuition-fees rebels places on the committee taking the Higher Education Funding Bill. Anne Campbell, the fair maid of Cambridge, accepted. George Mudie, second in command of the plotters, said he was "too busy". …