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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Profile: Lord Irvine
Lord Irvine is seen as Tony Blair's early mentor
Lord Chancellor is not usually a job which brings with it a high public profile.

Previous incumbents in the post have not attracted banner headlines, had their pay packets questioned or found their taste in wallpaper under intense scrutiny.

But in the case of Lord Irvine of Lairg, things were a little different. And his departure from the cabinet will attract a whole new host of headlines.

Before he entered government in 1997, Irvine was virtually unknown outside the legal profession.

Since then he became one of the most famous, and infamous, Lord Chancellors of modern times.

Loved by some and loathed by others in his party, Irvine provokes extreme emotions.

And it wouldn't be remotely difficult to find a Labour MP with less than kind words to say - privately, of course - about a man who was Tony Blair's mentor and is now one of his closest confidantes.

Law career

Lord Irvine was born Alexander Andrew Mackay Irvine in Inverness in Scotland on 23 June 1940, the son of a roofer and a waitress.

There was a row over the refurbishment of Lord Irvine's apartment
He was educated at Inverness Academy and at Hutchesons' Boys' Grammar School in Glasgow before going to Glasgow University, where he joined the Labour Party.

From there he went on to Cambridge University, before beginning his career as a lecturer in law at the London School of Economics.

Called to the Bar in 1967, he became a QC in 1978 and headed the 11 King's Bench Walk Chambers, which he set up with a number of other barristers including Tony Blair, from 1981.

'Despot'

Under his stewardship, the chambers - which also boasted Cherie Booth as a member - became one of the top sets in the country.

From having one QC out of 10 barristers, the chambers expanded to 10 QCs out of 28 barristers by the time Irvine left to join the government in 1997.

He served as a Recorder from 1985 to 1988 and was appointed a Deputy High Court Judge in 1987.

Those who knew Lord Irvine during his days as a barrister and judge say he was not seen as a team player.

In his book, Irvine - Politically Correct, Dominic Egan says Irvine was described by one former colleague as a "benevolent despot".

On joining the government, Lord Irvine soon found himself in the public gaze.

'Noble'

He spent more than 600,000 redecorating the Lord Chancellor's apartment in the House of Lords, including 59,000 on new wallpaper at 350 a roll.

The role of Lord Chancellor has been high profile since Lord Irvine was appointed

Not only that, but he defended his actions without remorse. Future generations, he said, would be thankful for his "noble" effort.

The hand-made flock wallpaper was not the sort of thing you'd pick up at the "DIY store" (sic) which would fall down after a couple of years, he said.

During the same affair, it emerged that he apparently had not heard of the B&Q home improvement chain.

On another occasion, Irvine compared himself to Cardinal Wolsey, the power behind Henry VIII's throne in the 16th Century,

He also attracted comment when he referred to the prime minister as "Young Blair".

He came under fire for seeking donations for the Labour Party from solicitors and barristers.

Family life

And he was accused by Labour MPs of arrogance when he put forward the case for an appointed rather than elected House of Lords.

A 2m pension fund fell into the spotlight only recently, while his 22,000 pay rise - an increase he subsequently put on hold - put him back in the spotlight earlier this year.

His family life has also hit the headlines.

Irvine met his wife Alison while she was married to the former Scottish first minister Donald Dewar, prompting a bitter fall-out between the two men.

And his son Alistair was jailed for 16 months in October 2002 for harassing a young couple after being sent to the US to overcome drugs problems.

It was his role in government which provoked most comment, however.

Powerful

Lord Irvine is said by commentators to have a vicious temper and has been accused of treating fellow ministers with near contempt.

His role was powerful in legal terms - he oversaw the courts and judges - while he also sat on several powerful cabinet committees.

But it is his relationship with Tony Blair which is where his greatest influence lay - and he is likely to have the ear of the prime minister even outside government.

Irvine was Mr Blair's pupil-master - the barrister responsible for his training - and he is godfather to one of the prime minister's sons.

And some Labour MPs distrusted him for the same reasons they distrust their leader: they suspect him of being out of touch with their party's traditions and core values.

Which is why in some quarters there will be few tears shed at his departure from government.




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