The Insider: A Dark Horse for PM, Gisela Keeps Dubious Company, and Unisex Lavatories for the Hacks

Article excerpt

Rehabilitation indeed! While the Brownites and the Strawists quarrel about who shall succeed Tony Blair, Stephen Byers is creeping up on the rails as the dark-horse candidate. The idea that he could become leader would have been unthinkable even a year ago, following his defenestration from the cabinet after the Jo Moore affair. But his discreet, hard-working absence from office has won fresh admirers in the ABB (Anybody But Brown) camp. MPs compare his steady climb back to favour with the pouting antics of Peter Mandelson when he was sacked.

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Byers, the transport secretary who asked newspapers to call him "Steve", is back in the Downing Street fold, and is pulling ahead of his rival Geordie Alan Milburn, who resigned as health secretary to spend more time writing new Labour's election manifesto. To the dismay of his supporters in the parliamentary party, Milburn has just taken a [pounds sterling]30,000-a-year job with a private health firm, an unwise step at this stage in the leadership shadow contest.

Much speculation at Westminster about the identity of Blair's feed-man who put out the story of the PM's projected 12-year reign. Whatever he said to John Kampfner (page 24), I have no hesitation in naming Charlie Falconer, the nation's First Flatmate. Staffers at No 10 said Tony was "incandescent". So he was. Not about the story, but about the cack-handed spin that accompanied its release to the Times, supine house journal of new Labour. The headline that he would go "on and on and on" was not what he had in mind. …