Editor-At-Large: Friends. The one where best mates desert each other

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Gosh, I'm pleased I've never made Rebekah Brooks' Christmas card list. I'm proud I wasn't one of the ladies invited to Sarah Brown's slumber parties at Chequers.

Sadly, my television career has not benefited by sucking up to Elisabeth Murdoch, even though she bought the company employing my former agent. Once, I hit the jackpot and was seated next to her husband at dinner, but after 10 minutes he went to the bathroom never to return. Clearly, I wasn't deemed to be one of the power-posse.

As News International auto-destructs, we're witnessing social meltdown as a bunch of high profile people claim they weren't that close in the first place. And as those resignations mount, people who were pals (like David Cameron and Andy Coulson, Brooks and the Browns) are having to rethink their friends. Once this gang were in and out of each other houses, loafing about on their boats, skiing and riding together. Now they're not even speaking as the shit hits the fan.

A year ago, what a rich and mutually beneficial social calendar they enjoyed – a glittering round of parties in the Cotswolds, cosy dinners, riding excursions and barbecues. From the outside, it seemed as if these media players and politicians were part of a lovey-dovey club that the rest of us could only experience through the gossip columns or glimpse as their limos drew up outside swanky mansions in Notting Hill. Not a week passed without these so-called friends being photographed clutching glasses of bubbly at birthdays, weddings and fetes.

I laughed when Gordon Brown went into rant mode about the sins of the Murdoch empire in the Commons last week. The same man who regularly attended Mr Murdoch's social functions. A man who didn't have time for frivolities, unless the invite came from Rebekah or the Murdoch clan, someone you couldn't afford to offend if you wanted to cling on to power, and whose friendship had to be carefully nurtured.

And Sarah Brown, a former PR, was no different – no sooner had she arrived in Downing Street than she set about building a network of media-savvy Supergirls who would be guaranteed to be supportive, uncritical of her truculent hubbie and who would gush warm twaddle about the socially relevant work she was undertaking to anyone who'd listen. Mariella, Justine, Kathy and Rebekah. They tweeted, giggled and bonded. They are faux-friends, the kind of people who look good in a photo next to you, who are willing to turn up and support your worthy causes. But they aren't real. They are as useless as the mates you join up with on Facebook or Twitter. These friends are like expensive clothes or hot new gadgets – you want them because they make you look good and, together, you exude a nice warm successful glow. But when they become dangerous or controversial, it's time to let them go.

Elisabeth Murdoch is said to be furious that Rebekah didn't resign earlier, and thinks that she has damaged her dad's business. Elisabeth's husband Matthew Freud is a powerful PR – and one that political leaders of all parties, and editors, would like to count as a friend. David Cameron has a curious idea of modern friendship too – appointing his wife's pals Anya Hindmarch and Tamara Mellon as government trade advisers. This threadbare notion of using tactical friendship to maximise career and business is a bit rich, coming from the architect of the Big Society, the man who bleats on about family values.

Out there in ordinary Britain, we value our friends. They tell us unpalatable truths about ourselves. They are willing to stand by us through thick and thin. And they couldn't care less if we don't have a bean. By those standards, it's clear most people in the current drama have few real friends, or any idea what true friendship entails.

Prison is not the answer for Charlie Gilmour

Charlie Gilmour has been jailed for 16 months after pleading guilty to violent disorder following his arrest during the student fees demo last December. It was a different person from the drugged dropout pictured in the national press who appeared in court for the verdict: he was looking pale and frightened, with short hair and a smart suit, flanked by his glamorous novelist mum, Polly Samson, and stepdad, rock musician Dave Gilmour, both wearing black.

It's easy to deride Charlie as an unthinking toff, but his background is pretty complicated. His biological father is the writer, poet, former squatter and anarchist Heathcote Williams, who wanted nothing to do with his son. When Polly, then a journalist, went to interview Dave for a newspaper, they fell in love and soon married. Dave then adopted Charlie, who is studying history at Cambridge.

Dave Gilmour is one of the most thoughtful and socially aware rock musicians. He has given millions, and his London house, to good causes. He can only lead by example. If his adopted kid wants to take LSD and Valium and behave like a total prat, chucking a rubbish bin at a car carrying royal protection officers and raiding Topshop, then it's not really Dave's problem: as a parent, you can only do so much. Even the judge said Charlie's family was "totally blameless".

But sentencing a contrite 21-year-old to 16 months in prison is not the right punishment. Would it not have been better to have enlisted Dave's help, and ordered young Charlie to spend two years working unpaid for one of the homeless charities his stepfather has done so much for?

Prison will almost certainly make Charlie Gilmour a martyr: social work will turn him into something his parents might be proud of.

Osborne's naff feathered friend

Politicians are routinely judged by their pets. After much deliberation, President Obama opted for a Portuguese Water dog called Bo – chosen because the President's daughter Malia (who is allergic to most breeds) did not suffer a nasty reaction. Hugely popular, Bo is known as the First Dog and even has his own blog.

In this country, politicians seem more wary about using a pet to boost their credibility. Dave and Sam Cam brought in a cat called Larry, but it's a working pet, controlling the rodent problem in Downing Street.

Now, George Osborne has a new feathered friend, a budgie called Gibson. Although the Chancellor says it's for his kids, I don't believe him. Budgies are unspeakably naff. Somehow I can see George regularly chanting "pretty boy" at a little green thing, can't you?

Summertime airport blues

The Transport Secretary, Phil Hammond, wants to ease security restrictions – and is pressing airports to design systems based on the best technology they can afford. Standards in Europe vary widely. During the busy holiday season, queuing to get through security will be an unpleasant experience for millions.

Last Friday, I flew back from Venice to Stansted. Ryanair like to punish passengers with check-in baggage by making them queue in ghastly conditions, but that pales next to the trauma of security. I put a lipstick and a tiny bottle of cream in a clear shower hat sealed with an elastic band. An operative told me he was "making an exception" as they should have been in a sealable plastic bag. On the way back, no one in Venice batted an eye. Some airports make you take off shoes; others don't bother. I'm glad I'm not flying again till September.



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