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Party Lines.

Byline: By Paul Linford

The appearance of Middlesbrough MP Stuart Bell on the Queen's New Years Honours List came as no surprise to keen observers of the political scene.

Mr Bell - or Sir Stuart as he is now to be known - is probably the nearest Labour equivalent of the old-style Tory Knights of the Shires who used to dominate the Commons' backbenches.

He has long been a steadfastly loyal supporter of Tony Blair, as was demonstrated by a letter he sent to the then newly-elected Prime Minister at his Trimdon home on May 1, 1997.

The letter was later reproduced for the benefit of posterity in Sir Stuart's autobiographical work Tony Really Loves Me, published by Spen View Publications (proprietor S Bell.)

The former barrister and one-time romantic novelist wrote: "You have not written your name on water but in the history books, because you built New Labour on the traditions and values of the old.

"It falls to few men or women to have such a vision, to be able to read in the runes of history what the present and future should mean, but by being the first Tony Blair rather than the second anyone-else, you have earned the right to be where you are today.

"You have a right to be here, to savour this moment, to marvel at it, to be humbled before it, to understand its reality, that paths of glory lead but to the grave, but paths of glory they are nevertheless.

"I hope the wonderment of this day will live forever in your mind, you have deserved your success and you will fashion and mould it not in your own self-interest, but in the national interest."

Of course, I am not suggesting there is any link between this missive and the gracious honour bestowed on Sir Stuart last week. But I thought it would help banish those post-Christmas blues.

ANOTHER of Mr Blair's most loyal allies, Hartlepool MP Peter Mandelson, has been settling into a smart new central London residence.

The former Cabinet minister - once forced to quit over a pounds 373,000 home loan from a fellow minister - has taken a flat just off Trafalgar Square.

At less than five minutes' walk from 10 Downing Street, it will enable him to be close at hand should the Prime Minister be in need of his advice.

It is also a stone's throw away from the offices of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - a possible berth for a third Cabinet comeback.

STEPHEN Byers is being strongly tipped for a return to Cabinet rank as Defence Secretary in the reshuffle expected to follow the Hutton Inquiry report.

But should the North Tyneside MP fail in his comeback bid, he will at least be able to content himself with the chairmanship of the Northern Group of Labour MPs.

The accolade goes to the longest-serving backbench MP never to have held the office, which next year will be Mr Byers.

Last year's chairman David Clelland said: "Steve will be chairman next year - unless something happens in the meantime to elevate him to his former glory."

TRADE Secretary Patricia Hewitt has pledged to outlaw stores opening on Christmas Day, within weeks of Durham North MP Kevan Jones launching a campaign on the issue.

Is the move a tribute to Mr Jones's persuasiveness - or does he just have the gift of foresight?
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 7, 2004
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