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Friday, 24 March, 2000, 16:25 GMT
Lost in the post?

By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

Since he stood down as Liberal Democrat leader six months ago Paddy Ashdown has virtually disappeared from the radar screens.

But reports are reaching me that he may soon be making a bit of a comeback.

Suspicions were raised recently after the hilarious revelation that an attempt by Tony Blair to show off his new internet skills by e-mailing his old mate had gone horribly wrong.

Mr Ashdown is the original computer nerd and was one of the first in the Commons to leap into cyber space. There used to be a popular Westminster joke that, while Caligula may have made his horse a senator, Paddy made his computer an MP.

Anyway, Mr Ashdown never received the prime ministerial missive and, when Mr Blair quizzed him about it, immediately ordered a search of his constituency office files to see if they could track it down.

They eventually discovered one simply stating "Hi Pat, you will be amazed that I have now come into the modern world."

Paddy gets something to smile about
His Yeovil party workers had put it down to another e-mail "nutter" and done nothing about it.

The incident showed that the two men are still close - I don't know anybody else, including senior Liberal Democrats, who calls Mr Ashdown Pat.

But I have now discovered they are so chummy that Mr Ashdown is still a regular visitor to No.10.

And the rumours are that the prime minister is finally lining him up for a senior job.

This was always expected to happen immediately after Mr Ashdown quit as Lib Dem leader. And all sorts of things were suggested - from cabinet minister to, more realistically, special envoy to the Balkans.

But, thanks to a mixture of circumstances and resistance within Labour ranks, nothing came to pass. So, apart from writing his memoirs, Mr Ashdown has been left twiddling his thumbs.

But I am now told that may soon all come to an end. But what is puzzling insiders is exactly what job Mr Blair may have in mind.

A role on the international stage is the most likely - an ambassador, or something in the UN for example.

But one suggestion has great merit. Maybe Mr Ashdown could be appointed as the prime minister's first official cyber advisor, charged with the task of ensuring the PM's reputation as an internet nutter doesn't stick.

Police probe

Liberal Democrat MP Dr Peter Brand is to be questioned by police next week after he said in the Commons that he would be considered a "multi-murderer" if a move to curb alleged euthanasia in the medical profession was passed.

The Isle of Wight MP made the comments during debate of a bill introduced by Tory Ann Winterton .

Under its provisions any doctor who could be shown to have withdrawn food, fluid or treatment in an attempt to end a patient's life could face charges of unlawful killing.

Peter Brand: won Commons support
Dr Brand, who still practices, said he believed people had the right to die in a "quiet, peaceful manner."

"If the bill had been part of the law when I qualified in 1971, I think I would now be a multi-murderer."

He later said he had admitted nothing unusual or anything that other doctors did not do.

Hampshire police said they would investigate after receiving a complaint about the speech and Dr Brand has now confirmed he is to be questioned next week.

Independent ways

The anti-European UK Independence Party has stumbled from one crisis to another after winning three seats in the European parliament last summer.

The other day its former leader Michael Holmes resigned amid continued bitter in-fighting and divisions within the infant party.

Unfortunately things within the group are in such chaos that he didn't get around to informing his agent Alan Wood who, when swamped with calls about the move had to confess "it's news to me."

Europe must be quaking in its boots at the thought of this lot threatening its future.

Live and uncensored

We've had female college students doing it and, most recently, a young couple were at it while decorating their home - now it is the turn of an MP.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey's Derek Wyatt is to become the first ever MP to go live and uncensored on the net.

He is in the process of installing a webcam in his constituency office and internet users will be able to log onto his web site during working hours and watch all the comings and goings as they happen.

Derek Wyatt: exposed on the net
"A couple of youngsters from a local grammar school do my website and it was their idea," he told me.

"I believe I will be the first MP to do this and we shall see how it goes. The idea is to give people a look at how we work in the constituency," he said.

He laughed off suggestions that workers may not like the idea of being caught on camera having a crafty fag or an afternoon nap - and I'm sure his staff would never get up to any of that anyway.

He is also reluctant to extend the experiment into his office in the House of Commons.

"If I did that people would see that I'm not there at my desk 24 hours a day and think I wasn't doing any work," he said.

Fading star

Remember Bill, now Lord, Rodgers?

He was one of the "Gang of Four" who quit the Labour party to "break the mould" of British politics by setting up the SDP in 1981.

He was never considered the greatest of the gang's stars - the others being Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Shirley Williams - and he has taken his time getting around to writing his autobiography.

And apparently he was less than delighted by the title dreamt up by his publishers - "Fourth Amongst Equals."

Still like the stoics all former SDP members have been forced to become, he has taken it lying down.

Comeback time

Rumours reach me of a "new" signing the Labour Party may soon by making at its Millbank headquarters.

With the general election probably only a year or so away, Tony Blair is eager to beef up the Millbank team in time for the campaign.

The teenagers at party HQ have had a rough time of it recently and faced mounting criticism for their lack of sophistication in handling issues such as Ken Livingstone's mayoral campaign. What is needed is a bit more weight.

Enter stage left the former Labour communications boss and the man who left after the last election to make a mint with Tim Bell's PR company - yes, the much-missed Dave Hill.

Apparently he is due to return to the fold to help them out when the campaign gets under way.

And no, he's not the befringed guitarist from stomp-rockers Slade - although the two do hail from roughly the same neck of the Midlands wood.


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).

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