Diary: Help! Search-and-rescue sell-off in a spot of trouble


When David Cameron faced MPs this week, the hubbub about Wednesday's public-sector strike was so great that a question thrown at him by a distinctly unhappy Tory MP passed almost unnoticed.

Richard Drax, who represents South Dorset, is not at all pleased that the upcoming privatisation of air-sea rescue will involve shutting down the famous Portland helicopter search-and-rescue station in his constituency.

This £6bn sell-off has not been free of glitches. It was called off suddenly in February when police were brought in to investigate an allegation of insider dealing. The more significant development is that the military will stop providing helicopter pilots for air-sea rescue. For many years, they have treated this as a way of giving their pilots experience in dealing with emergencies, but there has been so much on-the-spot training in foreign wars over the past decade that it is not thought necessary any more. The possible flaw here is that when Britain's armed forces are pulled out of Afghanistan it could be a while before any government ventures into another foreign war, and the military could find itself short of pilots with genuine experience. Of course, there is always Prince William.

A valuable question from Ashcroft

Lord Ashcroft, the multimillionaire who bankrolled the Conservative Party during its darkest years, asked a good question this week: whether the report on political party finance by the Committee on Standards in Public Life "represents good value for money". Considering that it cost an estimated £445,000 and it appears that nothing has been agreed because of it, you sort of know the answer.

Sarkozy invokes Napoleon spirit

How appropriate that Nicolas Sarkozy should choose Toulon as the setting from which to deliver a speech dashing David Cameron's hopes of averting a new European Union treaty. It was at Toulon, in 1793, that Napoleon Bonaparte first established his reputation by inflicting defeat on a British force who had come to the aid of royalist rebels.

Gillard: even bigger than Gavin & Stacey

A woman from Barry, south Wales, has not only achieved more fame world-wide than either Stacey or Nessa of the Gavin & Stacey series, but she is now better-paid than Barack Obama. A remuneration panel has decided to increase the annual salary of Australia's Prime Minister by A$90,000. That puts Julia Gillard, the daughter of a Barry railway worker, on a salary of about £300,000 a year – more than twice David Cameron's pay.

Young councillor to young offender...

Kyle-Noel Taylor, a teenage, independent councillor on Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council in Staffordshire, missed the councillor's surgery yesterday that he promised to hold every Friday. He will also have to send apologies for absence to future council meetings, because he is in a young offenders' institution. On Thursday, a court sentenced Taylor to six months for violently assaulting his girlfriend. He will be automatically disqualified from the council unless he can successfully appeal.

'Ballistic' Prescott calms down for internet age

John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister is doubtless a sweeter tempered fellow now that he has found a new role as a Twitter star than he was in the old days, when his temper was notorious.

The former editor of Tribune, Mark Seddon, recalls in his memoir Standing For Something, that he got a call from Prescott, who had expected a full account of a meeting he had addressed to be in Seddon's newspaper, when it had made only a diary entry.

"JP went ballistic, letting loose a stream of invective and consciousness so intense that I was utterly lost for words and decided on the method of least resistance: ie not responding at all," Seddon writes. "This seemed to work, as eventually the flow slowed and quietened and ended with what might be compared to some verbal 'pop-popping'. Finally JP concluded, 'Well, that's it then.' I was left in shock."

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