Let's send Dubya a dame

Observations on our person in Washington

First, it was Peter who was tipped to replace Sir Christopher. Then No 10's Jonathan, brother of Lord P (another possibility), might get the job. Or would it be the Brussels-based Sir Nigel, Whitehall's Sir Stephen or Sir Jeremy at the UN?

It's positioning time in the great game. Our man in Washington (Sir Christopher) is coming home and eight names have been punted upfield as successors. All of them, dear oh dear, are men.

It need not be this way: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made great progress in recent years appointing women to senior diplomatic posts. Sir William Seeds, ambassador to Brazil in the early 1930s, hated "she-diplomatists" who would "react most dangerously to one of the great diplomatic vices, that of jealousy, with its inevitable and disastrous concomitant of prejudice". Sorry, Sir William, but the battle is slowly being lost, or rather won. Whatever happens in Washington, 10 per cent of British diplomatic missions are now under the stewardship of that jealous, prejudiced liability, a woman.

In May, a group of senior diplomats attended a Foreign Office heads of mission course, learning everything from secret codes to crisis management. A quarter of those on the course were women. "The whole picture is opening up tremendously for women," says Dame Rosemary Spencer, ambassador to the Netherlands from 1996-2001.

The first female ambassador may have been Catherine of Aragon, who in 1507 was sent to England by her father, with formal credentials. Later in the 16th century, Madame Delahaye-Vautelaye was sent to Venice as ambassador for France, but she was an exception to the male rule. The first woman to be appointed a British ambassador was Dame Barbara Salt in 1962, but illness prevented her taking up the post in Israel; Eleanor Emery, high commissioner to Botswana in the 1970s, was the first woman to head a British mission. In 1976, Dame Anne Warburton was made ambassador to Denmark.

Could a female British ambassador to Washington find herself being goosed in the Oval Office? Lewder things have happened there in recent years.

To hell with Peter and Jonathan, Nigel, Jeremy and Co. Let's send Dubbya a dame.