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Even the room somewhere in Westminster where the historic meeting was to take place was kept secret until the last minute. Once “C”, Sir John Sawers, and his two colleagues arrived, the Intelligence and Security Committee chairman Sir Malcolm Rifkind announced a time delay on the TV broadcast lest anything endangering national security should be said. Mysteriously, the man sitting immediately behind MI5’s Andrew Parker bore a passing resemblance to Nikita Khrushchev. We were, in short, all keyed up.

Brown: I’m going nowhere

On an extraordinary day when he lost six ministers, frantically reshuffled his Cabinet, took a pounding in the council elections, and stood accused of sexism by Caroline Flint, Gordon Brown says he's going nowhere

BNP wins Lancashire council seat

The BNP today won its first county council seat in Lancashire in the party's stronghold of Burnley as Labour faced a routing in the town's local elections.

Blow for Brown as another minister quits

Prime Minister Gordon Brown was put under further pressure to step down tonight as Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell dramatically announced he was quitting the Cabinet as polls closed in crunch elections.

Brown urged to spare Darling in reshuffle

Gordon Brown was tonight facing calls to spare Chancellor Alistair Darling as he prepared to reshuffle the Cabinet to shore up his tottering premiership.

John Rentoul: I don't know

I haven't commented on Hazel Blears's resignation, because I don't know what she meant by it. All I can do is claim credit for writing this in The Independent on the morning she announced she was going:

Pint-sized assassin with Brown in her sights

Hazel Blears was a loyal team player until her attack on the PM's YouTube appearance

Matthew Norman: We are witnessing a very British form of anarchy

There is only blind panic and frantic plotting by members of a headless party

Fateful encounter that could seal Brown's fate

To lose one cabinet minister is bad luck. To lose two – within 24 hours – is the sort of carelessness that could finish off Gordon Brown's leadership.

Leading article: We'll miss you, Hazel

The resignation of the Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, was probably only a matter of time in the light of revelations about her flat-buying and tax arrangements. We bid her a regretful farewell nonetheless. One of the first to be exposed in the expenses scandal, she was also among the first to realise how such conduct appeared to the voters and to volunteer to pay money back. If she feels more harshly treated than some of her fellow-ministers, she would not, in our book, be completely wrong.

Disarray in Downing Street

Brown struggles to regain his authority after Government hit by spate of surprise resignations

The Sketch: So why are all these women going? To speculate is human

What's going on? Who knows? Who wants to know? Everything could turn out as everyone thinks or it could easily be the opposite. Cold blooded observers say we could just wait a week and we'd know, but waiting a week is not in our nature. Febrile speculation on the flimsiest information – that's our nature.

John Rentoul: This isn't the start of the coup. Just the pre-convulsions...

I know I shouldn't say this, but Brown could do with some of Blair's baser political skills

Cabinet revolt won't force me out, declares Brown

Prime Minister prepares for an onslaught as Labour suffers some of its worst opinion poll ratings ahead of Thursday's elections

Labour set to suffer a total meltdown in council elections

Fresh allegations about Chancellor's expenses expected as Vince Cable calls for him to resign
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Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
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Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
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Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'