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Diary: So, what is the real cost of defending the Falkland Islands?

  • @andymcsmith

With the 30 th anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands only weeks away and the diplomatic war hotting up, one thing we cannot expect to be told is what it is costing to defend those islands.

The principle at stake is that the islanders wish not to be dragooned into becoming citizens of Argentina. They wish, it is often said, to "remain British", although about a fifth of them are not British because Margaret Thatcher's government took away their automatic right to citizenship the year before the Argentinian invasion. That was one of the reasons why the junta in Buenos Aires thought they would get away with occupying the islands.

At the last census, there were 2,350 British citizens on the islands, right, out of a total population of 2,913. They are now being guarded by 1,300 service personnel, a ratio slightly better than one soldier for every couple of Brits.

The cost to the defence budget will be £61m in 2012-13, which is expected to increase by £2m a year. That is more than £20,000 per islander, but is only part of the cost. It does not include accommodation, electricity and fuel, or various items tucked away under disparate budget headings.

The Ministry of Defence says that it cannot give an overall total because "to provide each top level budget's expenditure in relation to the Falkland Islands would incur disproportionate cost".

Married to Lembit? Not on your life

Last week I reported the latest escapade of the attention-loving former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik who, among much else, had a four-year relationship with the weather presenter, Sian Lloyd. Alas, I used the word "wife" where that word should not have appeared, provoking this riposte in an email to our news desk, which I quote in full: "Hi there guys. Could you PLEASE tell your journo Andy McSmith that I have never been married ( thank the Lord!) to Lembit Opik? Quel embarrassment! Thanks. Sian Lloyd."

I cannot apologise enough.

No love lost at the Tesco battleground

Barry Sheerman, long serving Labour MP for Huddersfield, has been subjected to an extraordinary attack by a public servant. He objected to a planning decision by Kirklees Council to allow Tesco to build a new superstore to replace a town centre store they propose to knock down. His evidence did not impress the inspector, Robert Mellor, who presided over the resulting inquiry.

In his written judgment, Mr Mellor set aside the normal language of officialdom, to treat Mr Sheerman to a scathing dismissal.

"Mr Sheerman had difficulty moving away from a surprisingly poorly briefed rant about Tesco and descending to actual planning issues," he wrote.

The MP's suggestion that Tesco had put "unfair" pressure on the council was "superficial and populist, and is unsubstantiated by any evidence. It is unworthy," he added.

The case against Tesco was "simply bizarre", he reckoned.

Whether it was wise to be so dismissive of an MP defending what he thought were his constituents' best interests is another matter.

Mr Sheerman plans to complain to the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles. "I'm very angry about these comments, they're unprofessional. I would expect better from a public official ... The inspector ran a very poor inquiry," Mr Sheerman told the Huddersfield Daily Examiner.

Steer clear of my world, says Sinead

The life of the Irish singer Sinead O'Connor has had ups and downs, including a bout of depression in January after the collapse of her fourth and very brief marriage, but she talks good sense when the mood is right.

Speaking on Absolute Radio, she lambasted talent shows for imbuing the young with the "worship of fame". The young performers should take a good look at the panellists, she suggests, and see them "having emotional breakdowns and arguments and beating each other up". Then they might realise that it is "a world you don't want to enter". Her world, in short.

And in a separate interview with the March edition of The Word magazine, Ms O'Connor has this to say: "The Gallagher brothers had tea with Tony Blair. You set foot in Downing Street, you're fucked as an artist. You can't become part of the 'shit-stem'.

"I think it's just vanity. We artists want to feel real important and be like John fucking Lennon. So we think that if the Queen or Tony Blair invites us round, we're powerful and important musicians. And of course we're not. Tony Blair just wants to shut you up."