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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 19:41 GMT
Carry on boozing
test hello test
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Tony Blair likes to think of himself as a man who doesn't flinch from taking on great institutions such as the House of Lords.

And one of his first tasks as Labour leader was to take on one of the Commons' greatest institutions - Annie's bar.

Annie's was once a hotbed of gossip and scene of much bad behaviour.

It is the only bar in the Palace of Westminster where MPs and journalists can meet on terms of absolute confidentiality and, as a result, was once hugely popular.

The Queen with Eastenders star Barbara Windsor
Windsor pulling pints (right)
But the new Puritans of New Labour soon put the kibosh on that.

Tony Blair ordered his backbenchers never to set foot in the place for fear they might actually meet a journalist. And, of course, Labour MPs cannot be trusted out on their own.

Beached submarine

A few independent-minded MPs gleefully ignored the ban but, inevitably, the place has gradually fallen into disuse.

The fact that it was relocated to a windowless room with all the comforts of a beached submarine didn't help.

Some of the more snooty MPs and hacks now even turn up their noses at the very mention of the name

That is until free beer and the chance of meeting a celebrity are on offer.

So it came as no surprise that the place was packed to bursting point on Wednesday night when the refurbished Annie's was re-opened by the country's favourite landlady Peggy Mitchell - aka Barbara Windsor.

Drinking song

The pint sized pint-puller was on sparkling form and was subjected to more than one declaration of love from normally sober (in all senses of the word) MPs.

Head of the Commons catering committee, the splendid Dennis Turner MP, presided over proceedings and surprised everyone with a robust rendition of a drinking song.

Even teetotal Speaker Michael Martin was in attendance to offer his support and encourage MPs back into the place.

It was quite like the old days and everyone hopes this will mark the start of the Annie's fightback. Just don't tell Tony.

The prime minister famously described as "wreckers" all those opposed to his plans to involve the private sector in the running of public services.

GMB boss John Edmonds
Edmonds the wrecker
The very next day, of course, he insisted he did not mean workers in the services themselves.

So everyone has been left confused about exactly who he was targeting.

Step forward the unrepentant GMB union - led by John Edmonds.

It has produced a new T shirt bearing the slogan "proud to be a wrecker."

The back has a picture of a mildly satanic looking Blair under a picture of a nurse with the caption: "Is she one of the wreckers, Tony?"

So, a knighthood for Mr Edmonds in the next honours list I guess.

Political biographer Paul Routledge very nearly missed the launch party for his latest work on the life of former Tory Airey Neave.

The book, "Public Servant, Secret Agent" details the history of the man murdered by the Irish National Liberation Army in a car bomb in the Commons underground car park on 20 March 1979.

The launch was all set for Politico's bookshop near the Commons one evening last week.

Guests were informed, food and drink ordered and speeches written.

Unfortunately no one thought to tell the author who only found out about it when a colleague asked him if he would be in the pub across the road for a pint before the event.

Warrington South MP Helen Southworth, 45, nowadays sports a very fetching barnet of the colour - there's only one word for it - silver.

Apparently the makeover occurred about six months ago but she forgot to change her House of Commons pass to reflect the passing of her old, darker locks.

Labour MP Helen Southworth
Sothworth in darker days
The difference is not enough to render her unrecognisable to anyone - other than a Commons doorkeeper.

The poor woman was recently barred from entering the Chamber because she didn't exactly match her pass photo.

She had to rush off and have another one taken in the local photo booth before she could take part in debates.

Who says blondes have more fun?

Tony Blair took a lot of flak during his recent trip to Australia when it was revealed he was wearing a designer shirt with a naked lady on its inside cuff.

"Who advised him to buy that. Surely not Cherie," was the question on everyone's lips.

Well, no, it most definitely was not Cherie it was - wait for it - his dresser.

Apparently the prime minister pays a professional to select his clothes for him.

The American woman concerned pays regular visits to fashion guru Paul Smith's famous clothes emporium to fit out her boss and is the one responsible for the naked lady shirt.

Interestingly, the prime minister did not send the shirt back. Or did he not spot the figure nestling next to his wrist?

If Labour Party chairman Charles Clarke is to be believed - and who would dare doubt him - Deputy Prime Minister John "no job" Prescott has finally abandoned all pretences to Old Labourism.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
Prescott goes New Labour
When unveiling the party's five new policy discussion documents, Mr Clarke revealed that Mr Prescott had rejected the title of one.

He thought the original title "Industry" was too Old Labour and instead suggested it should be re-named "Prosperity for All."

If you have any political gossip or information on what our MPs are up to, e-mail Nick Assinder (all mails will be treated as confidential).

See also:

23 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
EastEnders queens resolve royal issue
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Number 10 denies 'wreckers' apology
30 Mar 99 | UK Politics
Murder of Airey Neave marked
04 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Fashion victim or style guru?
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