"Intellectually arrogant, ruthless, aggressive, self-opinionated and bombastic. That just about covers it." And the line goes dead.
These were the words of a man who makes a living choosing his words carefully, but they would appear to reflect the opinions of many in the legal profession when asked to describe the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg.
They were spoken in 10 seconds yesterday by one of the most eminent criminal QCs in the country and, worse still, they were delivered with venom. Such is the relationship these days between Lord Irvine and many of his fellow barristers following his threats of "no-win, no-fee" justice and promises to crack down on the use of Legal Aid.
Many of his political peers feel no better about him, reminding anyone who will listen that, although he is a member of eight of the 20 Cabinet committees - chairing three of them - he is unelected.
Derry Irvine was born in Inverness 57 years ago. He enjoyed a good education at grammar school and a lively intellectual home life, being exposed to his father's vibrant brand of socialism. He went on to study at Glasgow University before moving on to Cambridge, where he achieved a first. In 1970, he unsuccessfully contested Hendon North for Labour but picked himself up to establish one of the most successful chambers in the country, a team of lawyers with a unique libertarian bent.
In 1976, he took on as pupils two talented youngsters by the names of Tony Blair and Cherie Booth. His influence on them remains a powerful force. It was an open secret when Blair was in opposition that one of his first appointments would be Derry Irvine as Lord Chancellor.
That has given him an unprecedented sense of security which some claim has led to arrogance. In Government, there is said to be friction between Lord Irvine and Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and others who resent his un-elected status and his power.
"There is a lot of resentment at Government level," said one Labour backbencher yesterday. "He is one of Tony's inner circle and has enormous influence over him. Tony relies very heavily on him."
But fellow MPs despair of the kind of naivety that allowed him to compare his power with that of Cardinal Wolsey, who wielded enormous clout in the court of Henry VIII.
"Blair may yet come to regret appointing him, but it is incredibly difficult to remove a Lord Chancellor," said another MP with a legal background. "Some have been beheaded, and maybe that's the way forward. There would be no shortage of volunteers."Reuse content