Blair takes aim at the awkward squad - and fires one

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The Independent Online

First on the PM's hit list have been Gwyneth Dunwoody and Ian Gibson, a pair of left-wingers who (until recently) chaired two of Westminster's most influential committees: the Transport Select Committee, and Science and Technology Committee.

Blair has just tried to sack both of them. Dunwoody somehow managed to hang on to her post, but Gibson, above, was this week booted off the Technology Committee after what he describes as a stitch up.

Having used the post to oppose ID cards, Gibson learned on Monday that Labour had given his job to the Lib Dems.

Although jobs on such committees are officially immune from party political interference, Gibson smells a rat.

"People say I've been shafted," he tells me. "The whips will deny it, of course, but it's very disappointing.

"The Liberal Democrats haven't got a policy on science and technology. They always have trouble getting a spokesman when they need one."

"Gunboats" Gwyneth fared better. She was ordered to quit under the rule that committee chairs can only serve two terms of office, but escaped on a technicality: transport was officially a sub-committee during her first two years in the job.

* Stand by for ugly scenes at the Natural History Museum tonight when London's in-crowd attends the opening of its new "Diamonds" exhibition.

The bash - to which Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson are invited - is to be targeted by campaigners opposed to its sponsor, De Beers.

The diamond company's mining practices in Botswana have upset the pressure group Survival International, which intends to "name and shame" celebrity guests.

On the front line of the conflict will be supermodel Lily Cole, left, the "face" of De Beers, who is also expected to attend the bash.

Cole's boss Simon Chambers, director of her agency, Storm, is a former member of Survival, so she's been intensively lobbied by the group.

However, Survival's director Stephen Corry says she's yet to reply to his letters. "It's a shame that in the week of Live8, celebrities are going to be quaffing champagne and partying courtesy of De Beers," he tells me.

* Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge: the Movie - announced a few months back - has already sent the show business rumour-mill into overdrive.

Victoria Beckham was recently said to have landed a part in the flick, but on Monday Coogan told me such reports are "complete fiction". No celebs have yet been sounded out for cameos.

"It's still early stages, but the film will revolve around an al-Qa'ida siege," he said. "It won't fall foul of the religious hatred law, though, because, as always, the joke will be Alan."

Coogan - speaking at the launch of Air Babylon, by Imogen Edwards-Jones, at Mayfair club Fifty - recently finished a plot "treatment", and is now working on the full script with Patrick Marber.

Elsewhere, he's about to unveil a new character: "a 50-year-old former roadie whose best years are now behind him".

* It's silly season in Cheadle, where there's a by-election next week, following the sad death of MP Patsy Calton.

Battle has been joined on the thorny issue of election posters, after the Tory candidate Stephen Day decided - in a spoof of the Liberal Democrat slogan "winning here" - to cover his PR material in the slogan: "living here".

Opponents claim this is a snide reference to Calton's death from cancer in May. "You can see why people are complaining," says a Lib Dem spokesman. "Sick and negative stuff against Patsy won't do the Tories any favours."

The Conservatives plead not guilty. "We're actually highlighting the fact that their candidate doesn't live in the constituency," they say. "It's the usual Lib Dem tactic of attacking people for something they haven't done."

* Having turned British rugby into a laughing stock, Sir Clive Woodward's Lions tour of New Zealand - on which Prince William rubs shoulders with Alastair Campbell - is sending ripples through the world of books.

In order to cash in on the trip, Sir Clive's publishers, Hodder, decided to release his autobiography in paperback exactly one month ago. Two record thumpings from the All Blacks later, it looks like a costly mistake.

The hardback - released after England's World Cup triumph - sold like hot cakes, and made number two in The Bookseller's Christmas chart. The paperback, meanwhile, can't be given away, and hasn't even troubled the non-fiction top 20.

According to sources at Hodder, there's a crucial flaw to Sir Clive's earnest tome. It's got the title Winning.