Get the message: snubbed diplomats head for the door

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The Independent Online

* Last week, Tony Blair shuffled his cards at the Foreign Office, rewarding three of his most loyal aides with the ambassador jobs in Washington, Brussels and the United Nations.

Britain's diplomatic service now faces an exodus of bright talent overlooked for promotion, with mandarins complaining that those not championing No 10's position on Iraq noisily enough find themselves out in the cold, regardless of aptitude.

I hear that this morning, Nicola Brewer, one of the service's highest-flying women, will announce that she is taking "unpaid leave" for up to five years.

An FCO spokesman concedes: "Nicola was offered another post here but accepted a job outside... for anything up to five years. We congratulate her. She goes with our blessing."

And Sir John Holmes, our ambassador to Paris, also missed out on the top job he hoped for. Foreign Office officials say they put him forward to become chief of the UN's political affairs department - scant consolation - but he is unlikely to win because Britain did not declare support early for the new UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon.

Sir John who was honoured by Blair for his work on the Northern Ireland peace talks, is leaving the Paris embassy and is said to be considering quitting the service altogether.

Says a diplomatic source: "The reshuffle was a thank-you to those who have stuck closest to No 10's line on Iraq. The litmus test, especially for senior posts, is whether you are on-message about Iraq. If you are not then your career is stuffed."

* Patrick Marber can pour himself a large glass of sherry.

The British writer whose play Closer was turned into a Julia Roberts vehicle last year, has bagged a Golden Globe nod for his screenplay to Notes on a Scandal, which stars Dame Judi Dench as a teacher plotting against her colleague, played by Cate Blanchett. An Oscar nomination is expected on 23 January, and his Don Juan In Soho is favourably reviewed.

Marber has a new project: he is adapting Ian McEwan's award-winning novel Saturday, about the life of a doctor on the day of the Iraq war demonstration in February 2003, for the screen.

McEwan has about-turned: he cut himself off from Hollywood in 1993 after rowing with Macaulay Culkin's father. Another of his novels, Atonement, premieres in a year and stars Keira Knightley.

For Marber, it is a far cry from his days as gag man for Alan Partridge.

* Gordon Brown has, these past few months, offered the electorate his softer side: the "family man" attributes crucial in the PR war with David Cameron. But I'm not sure being spotted at the "puppet pantomime" That Pesky Rat can be part of any grand plan for political domination.

The Chancellor was at a midday performance in the Soho Theatre to hear the tale of a varmint who just wants to be loved, but instead sings blues and jazz numbers from a dustbin (the rat, not Gordon). The cast includes Pierre the chinchilla and Nibbles the rabbit.

"In one scene a Scottie dog and his owner wear matching tartan," says my spy with the coloured crayons. "Gordon was not laughing." The Chancellor looked "bored to tears" at points. However, John Brown, three, seemed to enjoy it.

* Red flag-carrying commies wondered what their dear leader, Anita Halpin, would do with the £20m she trousered from the sale of a painting confiscated from her family by the Nazis.

After talking to lottery winners, she has decided - rather boringly - to leave the wedge untouched in the bank, for now. In the meantime, she contributes a restaurant review to hacks' trade union mag The Journalist.

"I was looking forward to my herb-marinated sirloin steak with grated beetroot and sour cream," Halpin writes. However: "It was a large, shapeless piece of meat which had picked up no flavours from the marinade.

"At £124 for three, including service charge and three bottles of Montepuliciano, it could have been worse."

Ain't life grand!

* The Government and the Tories have kept schtum over the recent arms to Saudi Arabia scandal, where No 10 pressured the Serious Fraud Office to stop investigating alleged bribes paid to Saudi princes to secure defence deals. No such danger with the Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow.

Chairing a debate on Israel's human rights records in Hampstead town hall, he witheringly assessed several Middle Eastern governments. Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Snow said, is "a lunatic".He added: "The Saudi Arabians are not represented by their dreadful royal family there [and] the Kuwaitis are not represented by the filthy families that run the house there."

Charged words - although not as fruity as those ties he wears. It will be interesting to see what reception he gets when next in the region...

pandora@independent.co.uk

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