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Friday, 19 May, 2000, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Ken's latest challenge to Blair

By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

There has been much speculation about Ken Livingstone's plans regarding his seat in the Commons now he has become mayor of London.

The man who humiliated New Labour in the contest to run the capital might have been expected to stand down as an MP swiftly so he can devote all his time to his new job.

But no, he plans to hang on to his Brent East seat until the next election when he will not contest it.

This is not, of course, Mr Livingstone being reluctant to give up one of his reigns of power but yet another attempt to frustrate Tony Blair.

By waiting until the general election he has given his constituency party plenty of time to select an appropriate successor - one, he hopes, from the same awkward squad tendency as himself.

Had he stood down immediately, he feared it would have made it much easier for the New Labour machine to parachute one of their favourites into the seat.

I suspect, however, that his fears may have been unjustified.

Ken Livingstone: Pondering a return?
Tony Blair has been so battered by his disastrous attempts to impose his own men in London, Cardiff and Glasgow that I am told he has effectively thrown his hands up in despair and is ready to abandon his control-freak impulses in future. We'll see how long that lasts.

Meanwhile Mr Livingstone mischievously continues to predict that he will swiftly be allowed back into the Labour party, despite Mr Blair's insistence that "rules is rules" and he's out for five years.

Many believe, however, that rules are made to be broken and, in an attempt to keep some control over Mr Livingstone, he will allow him back in.

One MP is watching the developments with particular interest - Falkirk West's Dennis Canavan.

The veteran of the awkward squad was vetoed by the Labour Party as a candidate for the Scottish parliament last year and, like Mr Livingstone, decided to go it alone.

He was kicked out of the party and went on to stand as an independent and roundly defeat the official Labour candidate.

So, if Ken is brought back in from the cold, so must Mr Canavan.

Controversial domes

Tory MP Michael Fabricant is noted for his splendid and controversial shock of blond hair which has regularly seen him the butt of unwarranted and unfair comments.

Michael Fabricant: Taunted over dome
The latest came as he was berating Commons leader Margaret Beckett over the "scandal" of the Millennium Dome.

What is going to be done with it at the end of the year?, he demanded to know.

Before Mrs Beckett had a chance to reply, veteran left-winger Dennis Skinner - clearly back on form after his recent illness - shouted: "turn it into a wig museum."

What could he have meant?

'Ello 'ello

When Home Secretary , Jack "hard man" Straw, held a recent press conference on his latest plans to come down, well, hard on all villains, he noticed one of the assembled hacks was improperly dressed.

Jack Straw: Taking law into his own hands
In his rush to attend the event the reporter had thrown on his jacket, leaving the collar turned up at the back.

A solicitous Mr Straw went over and straightened it for him only to hear another journalist laughing: "Look, he's having his collar felt by the Home Secretary."

A frightening thought indeed.

Desperate times

Ministers who are desperate to woo the pensioner vote at the next election recently attended a "Life Begins at 50" conference in the QE2 centre near the Commons. But they got a bit more than they bargained for.

The affair was entirely overshadowed by an unusual complaint from 57-year-old Scot Carol Donald who is incensed that Aberdeenshire council has shut 69 of its 105 public toilets in a bid to save a "piddling" 316,000 as part of 13m-worth of cuts.

In an imaginative attempt to get her complaint heard she penned a poem specially for the occasion lamenting the lack of loos and general uselessness of her local councillors.

The first couple of stanzas are probably a bit too earthy for this column, but she summed up her feelings eloquently in the final four lines.

"Life can be 'ell in Ellan, Fan yer bustin' fer the lavvy Oh, would the Good Lord send us Some cooncillors wi' savvy."

Let us all hope her call of nature is answered.

Mice antics

While taxpayers are shelling out millions to build a flash new set of offices for MPs - imaginatively named Portcullis House - facilities in the Commons continue to crumble.

The latest has seen one office flooded by perished air conditioning pipes in the floor cavity.

Unfortunately the hard-pressed workmen are not able to get into the cavity to repair the pipes because it has been sealed up because of killer asbestos.

Meanwhile, the much publicised rodent infestation is getting even worse.

Not only do mice regularly visit the chamber during debates but they have started eating into the refreshment department's profits - literally.

All food has to be locked away from the mice and even the bags of crisps and peanuts in all the bars have to be raised above mouse level.

The plague of Westminster
The beasts know no fear and are quite happy to scuttle into packed bars and start chomping away at the grub.

It has also been revealed in a parliamentary answer that the number of "sightings" of rodents in the palace doubled to over the 100 mark between 1998 and 1999. As one disgruntled Labour MP declared: "It's all the rats leaving the sinking ship."

Bad medecine

Talking of the numerous bars in the Palace of Westminster - a man with a screw driver and drill has been going round sticking up First Aid signs in them all.

Presumably the watering holes are now seen as legitimate first aid points and we must start calling all the splendid barmaids "nurse".


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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