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Single parent in Mr Major's sights

ONE OF the first victims of the Government's campaign against single-parent families, the Diary learns, is that prominent and highly regarded single parent Sue Slipman, director of the National Council for One Parent Families.

Earlier this year, Gillian Shephard, then Secretary of State for Employment, recommended Ms Slipman for the post of chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, a job Ms Slipman was keen to take on. Assuming Mrs Shephard would have her way, Ms Slipman went on holiday with great plans for the future, only to find on her return that her appointment had been blocked from above. The man standing in her way was John Major.

When it was announced last April that Kamlesh Bahl, a computer executive, would be the commission's new chairman, there was surprise at the low-profile appointment. There were also murmurings about her membership of the Conservative Party.

Ms Bahl is doing a good job, but she is not making any waves, a situation that is unlikely to displease Mr Major. Under Ms Slipman, a formidable campaigner, things at the commission might have been very different, however. It can only be hoped that the Prime Minister, aware of the Government's plans to cut back welfare payments, didn't oppose her appointment because of the work she was doing for single parents.

AMONG the massed ranks of judges and government ministers listed as witnesses to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice published yesterday - prisoner WV 3241.

Left hi and dry PARTLY because of his blindness, and partly because of the surprisingly traditional approach to life that lurks behind his up-and-at-'em political exterior, David Blunkett is currently campaigning against the use of the word 'hi' as a form of greeting, preferring the more solid and meaningful 'hello'.

The Labour MP is particularly anti-hi because people who greet him in this way tend to deliver the word in the form of a squeak, leaving him high and dry as to whether he is being addressed by a man or a woman. He hasn't worked out the percentages, but it is probable that 'hi' people will also shake his hand in a limp-wristed fashion, suggesting they are neither confident nor genuine in what they have to say.

It is easy to slip into hi-mode, so I was on my guard when I called in at the Commons yesterday to find out how the campaign was progressing. Managing a good, resonant hello, I almost took the man's hand off as we introduced ourselves in the central lobby.

The campaign, he told me, was going well. He was directing his attention first at his three members of staff, all of whom had a tendency to 'allow their language to be infiltrated'. They were typical hi-ites, he said, because they were Londoners, but the tendency to say 'hi' was now creeping into the provinces. In The Archers, for example, 'hi' has become the common greeting, unless the person is talking to a horse, in which case it is still 'hello'.

What else would he like to see removed from the language? 'You must come round to supper'; 'Give you a bell'; 'Super, great, darling'; and 'Byeee'. Remembering that, I launched myself into another firm handshake, and left him with particularly deep goodbye, marred only by adding a belated (I suspect he doesn't like it) 'Cheerio'.

MOST people driving into the City of London are sanguine, I think, about the anti-terrorist roadblocks around the Square Mile. People don't mind if they are stopped for routine searches. But why are police questioning so many black motorists, I wonder? Since when has the IRA been recruiting black members? The police may argue, of course, that black drivers could unwittingly be carrying IRA bombs.

There is nothing unwitting, however, about the following woman brought to my attention who clearly just does not like black people. According to a travel agent in the City, a woman on a British Airways flight from Heathrow to Cape Town refused to take her seat in tourist class, complaining that she was not 'sitting for five hours next to a black'.

As the black passenger waited patiently in the aisle, the chief steward told the woman: 'You'll be glad to hear that we have one spare first-class seat.' However, the woman's relief was short-lived. 'Now, sir, if you'd kindly follow me . . . .' The man did so to tumultuous applause.


7 July, 1957 Noel Coward, on holiday in the south of France, writes in his diary: 'The high spot of the week has been a lovely evening with Garbo. We picked her up at her beautifully situated but hideous villa and dined at a little restaurant on the port of Villefranche. Garbo was bright as a button and, of course, fabulously beautiful; the food was delicious, the evening glorious with lights from ships glittering in the dark sea and the mountains rising up dramatically into the sky. Another high spot was a day I spent alone with Willie Maugham. He really is extraordinary. After all, he is 83 and should show some signs of wear and tear but he doesn't. He dived off the diving-board into the pool as usual. We gossiped about everything under the sun and I drove home in the evening sunlight feeling happy and stimulated and deeply impressed by the charm of old age when it is allied to health and intelligence.'