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Leverhulme
24 May, 2008  
London Calling

Howls of indignation as old guard seethes over Cherie Blair QC’s Speaking for Myself. The Brits put on an impressive display of envy and snobbishness to greet the autobiography


imageWhat happens when a barrister at the top of her game finds herself married to the Prime Minister of one of the most powerful nations on earth?

Throw in for good measure the fact that she comes from lowly scouse beginnings in down-market Crosby; that her family is abandoned by a wayward and promiscuous father and that her actress Mum is forced to slave in a chippie.

Add a lot of sheer hard work from a young girl who knows she is irritating when she puts up her hand in class to tell people the answer, but who then comes first in the country’s bar exams, and you have the ingredients of a cracking yarn.

Speaking for Myself by Cherie Blair has just been published amid deafening howls of pain and vituperation from the reptilian press of Great Britain.

The Times nabbed the serialisation rights, so that upset the other organs. Despite Borders offering it at half price, many people have been put off buying the book.

imageMrs Blair doesn’t pull her punches. The media gets it in the goolies for hounding her and her family over many years. Alastair Campbell cops a spray for gagging her. Derry Irvine, her pupil master and later the most florid Lord Chancellor since Wolsey, is not spared either.

It is clearly a time for score-settling.

The book has stirred up all those things that the Brits like to keep buried: class consciousness, misogyny and envy.

A chap called Ethan writing to The Times said the book has, “engendered an emotion in me for Tony Blair that I would never have believed: Abject sympathy. Vulgar woman.”

And some members of the sisterhood, as they proved when Heather Mills-McCartney made them seethe with jealousy, show no solidarity whatsoever. The delightfully named journo, Libby Purves doesn’t lounge on the fence. She writes:

“Welcome to the twisted delusional world of Cherie Blair as nauseatingly described in her memoirs … she is shameless, hypocritical, vain, arrogant and grasping.”

* * *

Even a member of Blair’s normally staid trade has lashed out. The book, says Gerald Butler QC, brings the legal profession into disrepute. How dare she include indiscreet details about such senior figures as the Queen and US Presidents.

Mr Butler, 77, who was senior justice at Southwark for 13 years, so he should know, told The Evening Standard:

“What she has done is not appropriate for somebody who sits as a recorder. I don’t think she should continue to sit as a recorder.

It is the kind of conduct which demeans the legal profession. It is altogether disgraceful but nothing less than I would expect from her. I would have thought there is no chance of her becoming a senior judge.”

And as if to demonstrate how judges should behave old Gerry goes on to say:

“As a Friesian weighing 1.37 tons applies to the Guinness Book of World Records to be declared Britain’s biggest cow, there is fierce competition for the title from Cherie Blair.

Mrs Blair’s memoir is called Speaking For Myself, though a better title might have been Poor Me. Grab the Kleenex now, as Cherie tells the heartrending story of how a plucky little QC, pulling in less than £350,000 per annum, found herself supporting a mortgage the size of Mount Snowdon.

An aide close to the Blairs once briefed that Gordon Brown was ‘psychologically flawed’. On the evidence of her memoir, I’m afraid it is Mrs Gobby who is knitting with only one needle.”

Speaking for myself (as opposed to the title of the tome), I think it’s a cracking read.

It’s the story of a woman who can tell a good story. The bits on Bush and Clinton and the Queen are great.

imageAs befits a barrister, it sometimes reads like a closing speech in a case against the press and is often full of further and better particulars. But it is also funny, poignant, frustrating, feminine, at times boastful and always human.

My favourite yarn is about larger than life Lord Irvine of Lairg QC (pic), who was Cherie’s pupil master. Apparently he was often thirsty.

One night he lobbed up unannounced at the tiny flat occupied by his young pupil and her sister.

Cherie’s boyfriend Tony Blair had won a bottle of old expensive wine in a bet and Cherie hid it in the broom cupboard. They were saving it for a special occasion.

Derry clearly had downed a couple of sherbets before arrival. He started poking around the kitchen for a refresher. “For God’s sake,” he slurred, “you’ve got no drink in this place!”

Cherie thought, “Good, he’ll be gone soon”. Then she heard a squeak and the pop of a cork and her master saying, “Thought you could fool old Derry, did you?”

* * *

When I was a kid, my seven-year old brother caught fire when he tried to leap over a backyard rubbish burn dressed in the flowing cape of Batman.

He spent some time in hospital and emerged with not much more than a charred ear.

imageNot so lucky was Kian Williams. He fell down the school playground steps pretending to be Batman and hit his head. The three year old died five weeks later of an infection in the Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool.

The head teacher and owner of the school, James Porter, 66 (pic), was found guilty by a jury of exposing Kian to a risk of injury by failing to prevent unsupervised access to the steps.

Mr Porter, who was of impeccable character, was fined £12,500 and ordered to pay £7,500 in costs. That was four years ago.

One of the biggest flaws in our legal system is that if often takes an eternity to right a wrong. This week the Court of Appeal set aside the conviction.

It was submitted that kids shouldn’t be wrapped in cotton wool. The presiding judge remarked:

“There was no evidence on which a jury, properly directed, could conclude that this child was exposed to a risk by the conduct of this school.”

The name of the presiding judge? Sir Alan Moses.