£40,000 - the real cost of reading David's diary

* When David Miliband became the first Cabinet minister to launch an online diary a few months back, he boldly declared that he intended to "bridge the gap between politicians and the public". What Miliband failed to mention was just how much the "blog" would be costing the British taxpayer.

According to research by the Liberal Democrats' urbane front bencher, Chris Huhne, the amount is somewhere approaching £40,000 a year.

Huhne has come to this whopping figure after tabling a written question to the recently promoted Environment Secretary's office earlier this month to ask what sort of manpower was involved in maintaining the site. He was told that two members of staff employed by Defra had recently dedicated as much as 40 per cent of their office time working on it.

So far, claims Huhne, this also means the blog has cost around £1 a word to upkeep. "How can it cost £40,000 a year of taxpayers' money for staff to capture David Miliband's hot air on climate change?" he says.

Ever since the blog was launched to great fanfare back in March, it's been heavily criticised. Some politicos complained that the content was too boring, while others claimed it was failing to attract intelligent debate on its message postings.

A spokesman for Miliband said yesterday: "I don't quite know how Chris Huhne worked out that figure. At the moment, we think it's going to be a small percentage of one existing member of staff's time."

* Sir Tom Stoppard is very much the man of the moment around theatreland again after his new play Rock 'n' Roll went down a storm at the Royal Court on Wednesday night.

So it comes as little surprise to hear that the film rights to the play are apparently already being considered by Sir Mick Jagger's production company, Jagged Films.

The singer - who is good friends with Stoppard -was in the audience for the opening night of the production, which also happens to feature music by, among others, the Rolling Stones.

If the deal does work out, it wouldn't be the first time Jagger and Stoppard have paired off.

Stoppard wrote the script for Enigma, the World War Two movie Jagger produced in 2001.

"If anything has been discussed, it would have been a private conversation with Sir Mick and Sir Tom," says a spokesman for the play.

"To be honest, it's not something we would have heard about yet."

* As racing tycoon John Magnier would no doubt testify, Manchester United supporters are sensitive about their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.

The latest to feel the red army's wrath is Hammersmith and Fulham MP, Greg Hands.

Last week, Hands posted an Early Day Motion in the Commons condemning Ferguson for "his continuing efforts to prevent Wayne Rooney from playing for England in the World Cup".

It's brought him no end of grief from United fans, who have been barracking him with hate mail ever since. "I don't know if any of the e-mails are from my constituents or not," Hands tells me.

"All I do know is that someone called reddevil@hotmail.com is particularly unhappy with me."

* The campaigning comedian Mark Thomas is claiming a moral victory over Perrier's decision to pull its sponsorship of the Edinburgh Festival's comedy award.

Thomas and other protesters have been rallying against Perrier's involvement for years, due to its parent company Nestlé's allegedly aggressive marketing of baby food in the Third World.

On Wednesday, Perrier claimed it had ended its 25-year association with the award to "explore new opportunities for the brand".

Thomas reckons otherwise. "The work of campaigners and activists must be a factor in the company's decision to quit the festival," he says. "The question to ask the company is, if everything is going so well, why pull out?"

* I do hope the messy scandal involving Mark Oaten's private life isn't stopping him from keeping his constituents in the loop. Each spring, Oaten produces his annual report detailing his activities around Westminster and beyond. Strangely, colleagues have noted that this year's offering has not arrived. "It usually goes up on his website right away, but it's not there yet," says one. "To be fair, Mark's always been very good at keeping his constituents informed about what he's been up to in the Commons and in the constituency. Understandably, he's obviously still choosing very carefully what to say in this year's report."

Oaten's office, meanwhile, insists their man isn't running scared. "I think there will be one on the way, although I don't know when," says a spokesman.


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