Brown thwarted in his hunt to replace 'two Eds'

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* With the Blair regime melting down without his assistance, Gordon Brown is taking the opportunity to bolster the team that will (he hopes) carry him gloriously into No 10.

The Chancellor has just quietly attempted to headhunt the Evening Standard's respected comment editor, Andrew Neather, as a replacement for his former right-hand man, Ed Miliband.

He was offered (and politely declined) a job as a special adviser to the Chancellor, with responsibility for writing all of his political speeches.

In the context of the Brown-Blair relationship, it's a cheeky move, since Neather, a former civil servant, worked as the PM's speech writer in 2001 and 2002.

Meanwhile, the fact that Brown is recruiting senior staff will be taken as further evidence of parking tanks on next-door's lawn.

Pandora understands that Neather was approached by one of Brown's aides, Spencer Livermore, and asked to fulfil duties that were carried out by Miliband before his recent ascent to a ministerial job.

"For years, Gordon's key men have been Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, who are known as 'two Eds'," says a Treasury source. "They are both now MPs and don't have as much time as they did.

"Gordon can be a hard taskmaster, and the impression Andrew gave is that he's happy to stay as a journalist for the time being."

Neather graciously declined to comment yesterday. I hope his employer, Associated Newspapers, took the approach in good spirit.

* At least one conspiracy theory concerning Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes can be tucked away in the file marked: "Untrue".

This month, it emerged that a scene featuring Holmes sans culottes had been cut from her latest film, Thank You For Smoking.

Reports claimed that Cruise had insisted on the shots being junked, due to his eccentric religious beliefs.

However, the film's director, James Reitman, told an audience at Hay this week that more prosaic reasons were to blame.

"The scene where we get glimpses of Katie having sex went missing at the Sundance festival," he said. "A projectionist cut it while assembling the film reel.

"Two days later, I got a call from the LA Times which published an article asking: 'Was it Scientologists or Mormons?'

"The answer is neither, but it created great publicity, so I'm not complaining."

* Paul Daniels and his elegant wife, Debbie McGee, have suffered a serious invasion of privacy. The couple, who were booted off X Factor on Monday, are now the subject of a satirical internet site, tracking their personal shopping habits.

A detailed account of items that Daniels has bought on eBay recently can be found at www.pdet.blogspot.com. It reveals that the knockabout magician has been on a shopping spree of epic proportions, building up a sizeable collection of 1970s horror films.

Splendidly, on 18 February, he also bought some "kinky leather-look boots," for £59.95. They boasted five-inch, steel stiletto heels and a red, oriental woven pattern on the side.

The boots were a size six. I hope they fit Debbie nicely.

* Yesterday morning's lobby briefing at 10 Downing Street contained a "moment" that wouldn't have been out of place in a Carry On film.

In an effort to sink teeth into John Prescott, a journalist asked if Tony Blair had spoken to his deputy since Thursday's croquetgate scandal broke. The press officer Emily Hands replied sternly: "They speak and stay in contact on a regular basis, but I am not going to give a blow-by-blow account."

All of which left the assembled (mostly male) press pack chewing furiously on the end of their pencils.

"I did wonder if 'blow by blow' was the most suitable turn of phrase to use when describing cocktail-sausage-Prescott," notes one.

* Forget Ascot. The social highlight of Saturday 23 June will be the civil partnership of the Defra minister Ben Bradshaw and the Newsnight journalist Neal Dalgleish. The happy couple will celebrate their "wedding" at Bradshaw's sister's home near Ross-on-Wye. Friends say they've chosen Tiffany rings, and will resist the temptation to use the "CP" for social climbing.

"They're not inviting loads of MPs, just proper friends," I'm told. "It's a 5.30pm ceremony, followed by traditional wedding breakfast, then Scottish reels and a disco until 2am."

Guests have been asked to eschew presents, in favour of a donation to Stonewall or the Alzheimer's Society. Apropros of accommodation, the invitation adds: "When you reply, could you indicate if you would like to camp." I'll resist the temptation to add a facetious punchline.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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