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A DANGEROUS split at the very top of the Government exploded into the open this week as the Prime Minister's wife prepared to take on the Chancellor over his Budget.

Well, almost.

Cherie Booth QC has agreed to represent family brewers Shepherd Neame in their court action against the Government over beer duty, which Gordon Brown put up by a penny a pint on Tuesday.

Not that Tony Blair's wife is going out of her way to bash her Downing Street neighbour. She only heard she might get the job on Monday, when a colleague in her chambers, Michael Beloff QC, warned he might be unable to make the Appeal Court hearing next week. Mr Beloff has been representing the independent Kent brewers in their action, funded by other family brewers in the UK who are incensed by the higher duties on beer here compared with the rest of the EU.

Mr Beloff has to attend urgent business in the US this Sunday, and the court unexpectedly refused to move its date to accommodate the visit. "This left us in an absolute pickle," said Stuart Neame, vice chairman of Shepherd Neame

Mr Neame said yesterday that Ms Booth would now have to get up to speed with a complicated case, centring on Articles 5 and 99 of the Treaty of Rome. "She's going to have a busy weekend," he said.

"The funny thing is, we had to wait for the Budget to find out what was happening [to beer duty], before we could go on....

"Originally, we applied for an appeal hearing in the High Court, but our written application was turned down, much to our amazement. So now we're making an oral application. We want leave to take the matter before the European Court of Justice," Mr Neame said.

The brewer is confident Ms Booth can win the day, given her record of handling European cases.

This won't be the last high profile and potentially controversial case she will be involved with this year. Ms Booth is set to defend over 200 former employees of BCCI, the crashed bank, against legal claims by the bank's liquidators for the return of staff mortgages and the like. The role of the Bank of England is likely to feature prominently in the case.

No doubt Ms Booth will still be welcome in the environs of Number 11 and Threadneedle Street, whatever may be said in the heat of the court room.

THE FORMER chief executive of British & Commonwealth and director of Atlantic Computers who was disciplined this week by regulators over his role in the collapse of the two companies has a new life as a philosophy lecturer at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Peter Goldie was censured on Monday by the Joint Disciplinary Scheme (JDS), and excluded from the Institute of Chartered Accountants, for, among other things, "approving Atlantic's 1988 accounts which were misleading ... and to have approved B&C's 1988 accounts which were seriously in error."

After the businesses went belly up Mr Goldie, who trained as an accountant straight from school, went to Oxford to take his first degree, in philosophy. He did so well that he eventually got a DPhil from Balliol last September.

Mr Goldie's interview to confirm his DPhil came on Friday, 19th September, before his appearance before the JDS the following Tuesday. The chairman, Sir John Bailey, opened the JDS proceedings with the declaration: "Congratulations, Doctor Goldie."

The then Mr Goldie had to demur, saying that the DPhil was not official yet.

Sadly, the tycoon turned philosopher was unavailable for comment yesterday. But surely his story proves there is hope for us all.

CORPORATE Charisma, a book by Dr Paul Temporal and Dr Harry Alder, which promises to tell you "how to achieve world-class recognition by maximising your company's image brands and culture," has an introduction by The Honourable Sir Rocco Forte.

Sir Rocco writes: "The world is a much more competitive place than it was five years ago."

Indeed it is. Wasn't it about then that Sir Rocco first heard about Granada's hostile bid for his family's business empire - while he was out shooting grouse?

Nowadays, Sir Rocco opines: "businesses have to work harder." How true.

CROWE Insurance Group, which manages six syndicates at Lloyd's of London, is to sponsor "Butch", a 165 mph 1968 Z28 Chevrolet Camaro racing car. But Crowe will not be insuring the car itself.

"The car's owner, Tim Bowles, handles insurance for the car," says a Crowe spokesman. Butch is currently having its insurance renewed by IBEX motor policies at Lloyd's. The idea is that the monster car will carry the Crowe logo during races and will whisk brokers and VIPs around various high-speed circuits.

Quentin Crowe, head of marketing at Crowe, says: "The hospitality days we have planned should knock the spots off afternoons watching tennis!"