16 MARCH 2002, Page 10

I n Parliament. I'm no Patrick Vieira. I've never had a

yellow card, far less a red one, from any Speaker. I'm even against breastfeeding in the Mother of Parliaments, I'm so old-fashioned. So when the red mist descended on me you can be sure it was no ordinary clash over a 50-50 ball, but a cynical over-thetop tackle from a minister whose apology I've had to accept, but whose name has still gone into my little black book. If the minister were a Norman Hunter-type aberration in an otherwise fair-play front bench, it could be laughed off, But it's typical of New Labour tactics, and the red team's management is in danger of degenerating into a clique. Although colourful themselves — from the former porno-writer Alastair Campbell to Lord Levy, the man who brought the nation Atvin Stardust (and Mr Mittafs base metal to the New Labour coffers) — they insist on uniform greyness from us. The result may have been election victories in seasons past, but the crowd is growing restless at the sight of crushed individualism and independent thinking in Parliament, and is streaming for the exits. A team, you see, needs players all over the park. . . and down both wings. Labour party membership — which 'the project' boasted would reach a million — is now 230,000, and falling like a stone. The unions are marching away too, and with their chequebooks. The appeal to big-business funders has been a fiasco, and the party is now strong-arming its MPs for thousands of pounds in subs from their parliamentary salaries — a novel form of state funding — to meet a £10 million debt, the largest in Labour history.

Even the once-undifferentiated ranks are now showing signs of getting out of step. Where, in previous wars, a shiver ran along the green benches looking for a spine to run up, the troopers are no longer obeying orders. They are not going to follow George 'Nuke 'Ern All' Bush and Dick 'Lon' Cheney, the American Warwolf who was in London this week. They are not going to be cowed into submission. All the usual buckets of smear — 'psychologically flawed'. 'wreckers', 'forces of conservatism' and now even 'enemies of the people' — have been poured, but it will no longer wash. It will never be glad confident morning again for the once-shining brass of New Labour's general staff. Former members of the officer corps, like Peter Kilfoyle, the exdefence minister and skiffler with Lennon and McCartney, has taken to the ether saying 'not in my name'. The Oscar-winning actress and former transport minister Glenda Jackson and the ex-Arts man Mark Fisher (putting both of Labour's Old Etonians, Fisher and Tam Dalyell, in the peace party) are among the centurions who have signed

the Commons motion against war. The Mirror's front pages are being passed round the members' tearoom where once they were kept in the lavatory. Revolution is in the air, and what bliss it is to be alive.

It's not just this one thing; it's been one damn thing after another. Ecclestone, Byers, the Dome, trades-union rights, Mittal. The other night, for the first time in eight years at what used to be the 'miners' table', now slung low with former social workers and ex-council chiefs, the talk of the tearoom was of the need for a reshuffle and, from two members, of a leadership challenge. Nobody died or even gasped as the first green shoots emerged among the toast and tea. 'Gordon needs to start putting his foot down,' said one, 'and a stalking-horse run from a respected figure on his way out, and with no interest in the ermine, should mark Blair's card.' How quickly things change in politics. One year ago Henry McLeish, Scotland's erstwhile first minister, was in the Oval Office with George W. for 'tartan day'. This week he's trembling at the jailhouse door, with police inquiries into his `officegate' affair closing in and charges looming. So tortuous has the saga become that no one would be surprised if a 'seventh let' to a Mr O.B. Laden were to tumble out of the cupboard. After all, say wags, Lord Lucan was hiding out in a room there, and Henry was claiming for him.

Isee some ministers in a huddle. Who knows what they are furtively whispering? One of them was last seen on television trying to lash the railway workers of South West Trains back to their posts. He would once — when he was a combat-jacketed, bearded ultra-leftist — have been trying to sell Trotsky's theses on permanent revolution to the horny-handed members of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, Now he's barking 'Back to work'. And for whom? Why, the company's master, Brian Souter, the cowboy owner of Stagecoach, last seen rolling hundreds of thousands of bank-notes into the Christian fundamentalist 'family values' campaign to retain Clause 28, the most atrocious anti-Labour campaign in Scottish political history, which may have helped Donald Dewar into an early grave.

Spying the gracious Lady Smith of Gilmorehill in the corridor, I took to wondering what might have been if the mighty oak, plain John Smith, had never fallen, his great heart never stilled. We would now be into the second term of a Labour government. And we'd know who our friends and our enemies really were.

Imagine my horror and distress when, soon after filing this Diary, I was telephoned by the London Evening Standard and told that Bruce Anderson, one of The Spectator's most distinguished contributors, had resigned from the magazine in protest against my writing in this space. Bruce and I may have our political differences, but we have been friends for 20 years. Only the other week, at the Cambridge Union, he suggested that the two of us should embark on a roadshow together: he putting the case for the Right to assorted housewives and political wonks, and I for the Left. Alas, perhaps it is now not to be.

George Galloway is a columnist with the Scottish Mail on Sunday and Member of Parliament for Glasgow Kelvin.