Lord Irvine:flying too close the sun?

The comparison Lord Irvine made last week between himself and Cardinal Wolsey caused many in the legal profession to cringe.

Power crazed, some said. A rather severe case of egomania, said others. However, at a time when the legal profession is most concerned about the imminent privatisation of legal aid, most put it down to lack of judgement. Particularly as it followed shortly after his "wallpaper" debacle.

Lord Irvine has since complained that his Wolsey remarks were a joke. The comparison certainly livened up proceedings at the Middle Temple last week when the benchers turned out to pay tribute to the new Lord Chancellor at a special dinner. By all accounts, jokes at his expense dominated the evening – when his back was turned, of course. But, joking apart, there is a serious side to the issue.

Surely, rather than making pretentious historical analogies, it would be better if he concentrated all his energies on the major tasks ahead of him, such as the effect on privacy law of the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights (on which he has confessed to making a mistake) or organising some research into whether the insurance industry can really underpin his legal aid reforms.

After all, we do not need him to tell us that he is a powerful figure. Being a confidant of the prime minister and a member of seven of Labour's 19 cabinet committees, three of which he chairs, undoubtedly makes him a pivotal figure in the government.

For all Lord Irvine's predecessor's faults, at least he had a grain of humility. Given his power, Lord Irvine may not feel he needs the respect of the legal profession. But, as the press eagerly pointed out last week, Wolsey came to a sticky end precisely because he got too powerful. Could history repeat itself?