Diary: 'Disrespectful' Peter Hain faces court appearance

  • @andymcsmith

In what promises to be a bizarre court case, a former Cabinet minister is being hauled in front of a Belfast court, accused of showing disrespect for a judge.

Peter Hain, who was Northern Ireland Secretary under Tony Blair, is accused of contempt of court over a passage in his memoirs in which he criticised Sir Paul Girvan, now Lord Justice Girvan.

In 2005, the Government was seeking to appoint a commissioner for the families of victims of The Troubles. Mr Hain appointed Bertha McDougall, the widow of a police officer murdered by republican terrorists.

When controversy over the manner of the appointment went to court, Judge Girvan ruled that it was politically motivated and breached the ministerial code. Mr Hain made some scathing comments about that in his memoirs, Outside In, and cast doubt on the judge's motive. The rights and wrongs of this old dispute are of little interest to anyone, but the idea that a former Cabinet minister cannot say what he thinks of a judge is startling.

Iain Dale, who runs Biteback Publishing – who also face being charged with contempt – claimed yesterday: "Proceedings for contempt for criticising judges have been considered obsolete in England and Wales since the end of the 19th century. Our lawyers are not aware of any such case having been brought in Northern Ireland in living memory."

David Miliband aka Eddie the Eagle

David Miliband shows a nice line in self-deprecation as he eases himself back into politics after losing the Labour leadership to his kid brother.

"How can I put it delicately?" he asks himself, in an interview with GQ magazine. "The British admire nothing so much as someone who's lost, that is a very endearing British quality. I'm an Eddie the Eagle figure in that sense."

That last comment, he added, "rather dates me". It does, but anyone over 40 will remember the British ski jumper, Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards, who talked his way into competing in the 1988 winter Olympics, came 86th out of 86 and became a national hero.

Labour left red-faced

In one of those mix-ups that embarrass party managers, though it means little or nothing in the world outside, Labour MPs have missed an opportunity to vote against the reduction of the top tax rate from 50p to 45p.

Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, was under the impression that there was no opening for a separate vote on the income tax rates as the Budget debate closed on Monday night.

Labour MPs had voted against the Budget as a whole and thought that was job done.

But no item in the Budget is law until Parliament has approved it, so there were 72 separate items still on the agenda, almost all of which were nodded through.

The 72nd had several sub-headings, one of which read "Procedure (future taxation: rates of income tax)". The SNP cleverly spotted that this was the item under which the new 45p rate was formally approved and suddenly called for a vote.

Labour's business managers didn't know what was going on, so Labour MPs abstained, except for veteran rebels, Dennis Skinner and Paul Flynn, who joined 20 MPs from the smaller parties to vote against.

This cock-up caused much glee at Labour's expense in the Westminster village.