Who to sit next to? It's a dilemma faced by millions of schoolchildren every day. Grab a seat next to the most popular kid in school and a little bit of that magic rubs off on you.

Plonk yourself down next to "stinky" Smith, on the other hand, and you're damned by association.

It's a tough life, and luckily, most of us can forget about that sort of thing by the time we reach adulthood.

Not so for politicians. When you're in the House of Commons, who you sit with still says a lot about you.

For Tony Blair, the problem is particularly acute. One by one, his friends have been losing their alpha status.

Ruth Kelly? Once the golden girl, now blamed for turning the Labour back-benches against the Government over education reforms, she's probably best avoided for now. What about Pat Hewitt? She's getting the blame for hospital debts, and invited ridicule by claiming the NHS was enjoying its "best year ever".

There's always John Prescott. But Prezza's going through a difficult patch, perhaps he should be kept at arms length for a while.

And then there's Hilary Armstrong, the rottweiler of the Labour Party. As Chief Whip, she should be the Prime Minister's right hand woman - except she's become a bit of a laughing stock.

That's a problem for any member of the Government, but for a Chief Whip it's fatal. Better shoo her away.

Finally, we come to Charles Clarke. He showed so much promise, being tough as nails and not liking Gordon very much. But it's all gone pear-shaped for the Home Secretary.

Under his watch, 1,023 foreign criminals, including some pretty nasty ones, have been set loose in Britain without being considered for deportation.

It's hard to know if he's really to blame. But he's not minded to shift the guilt onto his officials, and it would be a mistake to try. Nobody likes a sneak. So Charles falls firmly into the "avoid" category, at least for now.

It's easy to understand why Mr Blair is steering clear of a Cabinet reshuffle even though one Cabinet post - Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster - has been vacant for six months. Many of his top team are too damaged to move anywhere.

In the end, Mr Blair was perched between Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary, yesterday.

No problem there, but once questions to the Prime Minister had finished it was time for Mr Clarke to make a statement - and he wandered over to the despatch box to sit next to the Prime Minister.

Blair scarpered quickly, to the delight of jeering Conservatives. Poor Mr Clarke looked rather shocked.

Here he was, fighting for his political life, and the Prime Minister couldn't even spare the time to sit beside him and nod his head in a manner which suggested "I have complete confidence in the Home Secretary".

Perhaps Mr Blair was justified in being upset. He'd just receiving a beating up at the hands of David Cameron, who seems to be back on form and asked the Prime Minister a series of painful questions about the deportation fiasco. ..SUPL: