Irvine's postage invites criticism

TO A MAN who spent pounds 650,000 of public money on wallpapering his lavatory, the sum of pounds 9.80 must seem like a piddling amount.

However, the admission by Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, yesterday that he had used his office to send out invitations for a private party at the Garrick Club has created a political stink that would defy Domestos.

In a move guaranteed to send Jeremy Paxman's raised eyebrows into orbit, Lord Irvine posted letters at public cost to persuade Garrick members to allow one of his friends to rejoin the esteemed London club.

If only Mr Paxman, who was blackballed by the club when he applied, had the social connections of Andrew Patrick, the managing director of the Fine Art Society and pal of the Lord Chancellor. In a letter that suggests New Labour's "old boys' network" is as effective as that of the Tories, Lord Irvine pleaded with fellow members to attend a party to support the membership application of Mr Patrick.

When the use of public funds was revealed yesterday, the Tories expressed outrage, claiming that the incident was yet further evidence of the Lord Chancellor's arrogant approach to his role.

A spokesman for the chastened cabinet minister said: "It was a simple oversight. The Lord Chancellor will be reimbursing the cost of the postage. The cost is pounds 9.80."