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More news from barmy Brent, the (Conservative-controlled) council that is definitely a couple of wards short of a full borough. We told you a couple of weeks ago how an unseemly row over a series of loony motions, including one to legalise female circumcision, prevented a full council meeting from debating proposals to cut the borough's education budget (already pounds 12m below the standard spending assessment, the amount the Government considers necessary) by pounds 5.5m - the package was voted through under a guillotine. The opposition Labour group has, therefore, requested a special council meeting to discuss the cuts. The best that Eric McDonald, the Conservative mayor, can offer is 8 March, after the council's budget meeting. Since, we're told, this latter meeting has never finished before midnight and has been known to go on until seven in the morning, the education debate will be conducted some time in the small hours of 9 March - which is bound to impress the 3,000 or so Brent folk who took to the streets at the weekend to protest against the cuts. Still, as Charles Wood, the council's chief executive, tells councillors in a letter: 'The mayor finds no reason for a greater urgency in this case.'

TO WHAT is the Home Secretary referring? 'It is not highly suitable for a Minister of the Crown and a Conservative politician, but there is a bit of me that still manages to fit it in now and again.' Europhobia? Maggiephilia? No, Kenneth Clarke is talking merely of his liking for jazz, in an interview to be broadcast on the London station Jazz FM tonight. (PS: His all-time favourite tracks include Sonny Rollins' 'Decision' and 'Turn Around' by Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry.)


The ITN documentary in which Selina Scott got a rare look behind the walls of Spain's royal palace is still rocking the country. Most Spaniards said they liked the film, shown on national television, although it occasionally made King Juan Carlos look slightly dopey. For example, when the monarch couldn't get one of his big macho motorbikes started, Ms Scott leant across, pressed the starter button and, well, vrrrrrrmmmm. But her journalistic coup, her dewy gaze into the king's eyes and her confession that if she ever kissed a frog, she hoped it would turn into the Crown Prince Felipe, has caused a bit of what sounds like jealousy among the home- grown admirers of the handsome, and still single, prince. In a letter to the daily El Pais, one Adriana Fernandez Baigorri writes: 'I think I'm expressing the feelings of many Spaniards, including, I suppose, many Spanish journalists, when I suggest that this bright reporter, for the time being, sticks to kissing frogs.'

EVER wondered why the nation still owns the Royal Mail? Douglas Mason, author of the Adam Smith Institute's pamphlets on privatisation of the post, told a lunch yesterday that the chief obstacle, in the past, to his ideas was 'the sentimentality of a prime minister whose attraction (to the Royal Mail) was such that it could never be discussed seriously when she was in office'. He added: 'It is perhaps the only area where her departure is beneficial.'


A letter arrives from Fazile Zahir, general secretary of the student's union of the London School of Economics, requesting that we ask readers 'to express more love for the world and its beings . . . and be as nice to others as you can'. There. That was easy. Ms Zahir's letter comes at the behest of the union, which recently passed a motion noting, inter alia, 'that the ennui of modernity is the consequence of a disrupted quasi-symbiotic relationship between ourselves and Gaian nature', and 'mandating' the general secretary to send the above messages to this and other newspapers. It also instructs the chair of the union general meeting 'to sing at the beginning of the UGM the following (Cat Stevens) song: 'I can't keep it in, I gotta let it out,/I gotta show the world, the world's gotta see/See all the love that's inside of me.' ' We're pleased to report that as a gesture of solidarity with the LSESU, this diary has mandated itself to sing the same chorus after lunch every day.


19 February 1877 Edmond Goncourt writes in his journal: 'This evening Flaubert, while paying tribute to his colleague's genius, attacked all the prefaces, the doctrines, the naturalist professions of faith, in a word all the rather flamboyant humbug with which Zola helps along the sale of his books. Zola replied roughly to this effect: 'You had a private means which allowed you to remain independent of a good number of things. But I had to earn my living with nothing but my pen; I had to go through the mill of journalism and write all sorts of shameless stuff; and it has left me with - how shall I put it? - a certain taste for charlatanism. I consider the word Naturalism as ridiculous as you do, but I shall go on repeating it over and over again, because you have to give things new names for the public to think they are new.' '