Magazine article The Spectator

Being Derry Irvine Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Magazine article The Spectator

Being Derry Irvine Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Article excerpt

Harold Macmillan used to divide politicians into bishops and bookies. It is an amusing parlour game and has also been a useful analytical tool. But the Blairites may now have rendered it out of date.

It is certainly true that over the years there have been plenty of unprincipled characters in politics, and even more self-righteous ones. But it was usually easy to tell which was which. Outright hypocrisy used to be rarer in real life than in literature, until the Blairites came along. They have a remarkable gift of harmonising lack of principles with moral superiority.

Apropos of moral superiority, it was instructive to watch the Lord Chancellor in action on Wednesday morning. Derry Irvine kept his temper, but just beneath the surface of his remarks there was a vast expanse of petulance. We gathered that his Lordship had been gracious enough to examine his own conduct. After due deliberation, he had pronounced himself to be not guilty; that, surely, was that.

It was not. His tone was all wrong, and the basis of his self-exculpation was specious. Fund-raising was part of political campaigning, he argued, and as previous Lord Chancellors had appeared on election platforms, it was in order for him to attend a fund-raising function. The fallacy in this ought to be clear to the meanest intelligence, and there is nothing mean about Derry Irvine's intelligence. Should Lord Chancellors go on the stump at election time, they would not be addressing an audience whose career prospects could be crucially affected by their powers of patronage. At a fund-raising dinner for lawyers, the reverse is true. Almost everyone at such a gathering could gain from Lord Irvine's favour, or lose from his disfavour. Even if he never intended impropriety, the appearance of impropriety is inescapable: cash for QCs. He should not have been there and, since he was, he should have apologised. But such is his conviction of his own moral superiority that he could not bring himself to say the words `I'm sorry'.

The allotted time for Lords' questions was short, to the manifest relief of Lord Irvine and Baroness Jay (her imminent departure brings manifest relief to everyone else). It was unfortunate for the Lord Chancellor that in announcing the move to next business the Labour Chief Whip should also have summarised the preceding debate. To general laughter, Ray Carter announced that there would be a statement on foot and mouth disease. But we had just heard a statement on foot in mouth disease. The Lord Chancellor is suffering from it and appears to be incurable. But the Prime Minister is still not prepared to call for the vet and the final needle. Lord Irvine left the House of Lords dissatisfied and with his own reputation diminished.

Not that he will care, for there is a difference between Derry Irvine and the rest of Tony Blair's senior courtiers. The other embattled cronies, Alastair Campbell and Charlie Falconer, plus the ex-crony Peter Mandelson, all had one curb on their arrogance. Whatever their attitude to the rest of mankind, they do defer to the Prime Minister. Derry Irvine does not even do that. In his relationship with `young Blair' as he still sometimes calls the PM, there is a vestige of the old days. Not only was Derry Irvine Tony Blair's pupil-master at the Bar; the future Lord Chancellor was an exigent master, the future PM a not especially gifted apprentice.

However high and mighty they may start out, most Cabinet ministers realise at some stage in a Parliament that they are dependent on their PM's approval. That has not yet occurred to Derry Irvine; he is too arrogant and imperceptive. …

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