The Diary: Brussels promises unseen levels of inactivity

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The Independent Online

When Belgian trade unions get stroppy, they cause disruption on a scale to make Bob Crow green with envy. When David Cameron and other heads of government assemble in Brussels on Monday for a session of the European Council, they will see a city at a standstill.

Advice has gone out that anyone thinking of arriving by rail or air should book a hotel room for Sunday night and be in Brussels by 10pm, because after that hour, says an advice note, "public transport in Brussels will be heavily disrupted or even non-existent". Those going by car should expect heavy jams, not to mention demonstrations and roadblocks. And they will not be able to look forward to the usual lavish free nosh when they finally get through, because the caterers will be on strike, too, although there will be sandwiches and drinks.

The dispute is over cuts that will make it harder to retire early and reductions in unemployment benefit.

A pox on both your houses

Talks between Westminster and the Scottish Executive over plans for a referendum on independence have run into a spot of bother – or, rather, a lot of spots. The Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore, has had to cancel his meeting with the First Minister, Alex Salmond, because he has gone down with chicken pox.

Any other Cabinet ministers who did not have the disease in childhood could be in for similar problems because Downing Street says Moore was "infectious and contagious" when he attended a Cabinet meeting earlier in the week.

A peerless fighter for his own cause

We do not hear much about Lord Black of Crossharbour in this country. The former proprietor of the Daily Telegraph has not set foot in the House of Lords for years because of his travails with the US legal system. He was jailed for fraud in 2007, released in 2010, and sent back to prison last June – none of which affects his status in the UK as a life peer.

But Americans are treated regularly to Lord Black's views on current affairs, via the Huffington Post and National Review online. This month he has called for a show of force against Iran, railed against Barack Obama and Warren Buffet, paid fulsome tribute to Margaret Thatcher, and backed Jeb Bush to be the next US President. But the peer, pictured right, displays his greatest eloquence when discussing the "colossal injustices and failures in the US justice criminal system". Lord Black is unswervingly convinced of one thing – he is an innocent man, wrongly imprisoned.

Heir stands aside to be with Wallis

The husband of Diana Wallis, the Liberal Democrat MEP who quit her seat after failing in her bid to be elected president of the European Parliament, has decided not to keep the job in the family. The rules of the "list" system of proportional representation used to elect MEPs gave Stewart Arnold an automatic right to take his wife's place, a prospect that so appalled another Liberal Democrat MEP, Chris Davies, that he resigned his post as chief whip.

Yesterday, Mr Arnold voluntarily pulled out. Rebecca Taylor, another Liberal Democrat, is now entitled to the seat if she wants it.

Spring conferences lose their bounce

Spring conferences used to be the second-biggest items on a political party's calendar. It was a chance for party stalwarts to spend a pleasant weekend arguing, plotting, and mingling with the famous, under the gimlet eyes of the mass media. But where there used to be three of these events, this year there is only one, for the Liberal Democrats, who will spend three days in Gateshead in March being democratic.

The cash-strapped Labour Party has cancelled its spring conference outright, while the Tories have reduced theirs to a single day's gathering in central London with no journalists but just one television camera sending pooled pictures to all channels.