Irvine snubs hearing on job for crony

AFTER JUST two gaffe-free months the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, is in trouble again. The man who spent nearly pounds 600,000 of taxpayers' money redecorating his official residence and then compared himself to Cardinal Wolsey, is set to make headlines again.

Tomorrow he will be accused of sexual and racial discrimination at a tribunal hearing in Croydon, south London. And, in a style Cardinal Wolsey would have approved of, he is refusing to attend the hearing, which is expected to last until Friday.

The case, he claims, is "mischievous and political". Jane Cocker and Martha Osamor, the women bringing the action, have no complaint with the "political" charge - they believe the case exposes the cronyism at the heart of New Labour.

At issue is the appointment in 1997 of City lawyer Garry Hart, a close friend of Lord Irvine and godfather to Tony Blair's daughter, as special adviser to the Lord Chancellor. It was, allege the two women, "jobs for the boys". The post was not advertised. The procedure for appointing a special adviser is approved by the Civil Service, although the final decision rests with the Prime Minister.

Ms Coker, a well-known immigration lawyer, and Ms Osamor, a law centre worker, say that failure to advertise the post guaranteed a "jobs for the boys" appointment and showed contempt for equal opportunity policies.

The incident is the latest in a growing list of "crimes'' the Lord Chancellor has been accused of.

Mr Blair was introduced to Cherie Booth by Lord Irvine when both were pupils in his chambers. "Cronyism" cried the critics when he was appointed Lord Chancellor. And then came the refurbishment of his official residence in the Palace of Westminster; the bill for the wallpaper alone came to pounds 57,233.

The controversy did not end there. Lord Irvine, given enough rope, was happy to hang himself as well. In an interview with the Times in December 1997, he made his infamous Cardinal Wolsey comparison.

Further controversy followed in May 1998 when he referred to the Prime Minister as "young Blair", a remark he claimed was laden with familiar irony rather than meant as derogatory.

Then in October he angered many within the Labour Party when he claimed to have written some of the former Labour leader John Smith's legal essays while they were at university.

Trouble returned earlier this year when he used government stationery for private party invitations, and ended up having to pay pounds 9.80 for postage.