The UK Supreme Court in Parliament Square, London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Ray Tooth and Ayesha Vardag debacle proves there really is such a thing as bad publicity

Tooth, a 73-year-old veteran of divorce law, accused his former protégée Vardag of trying to pinch celebrity clients from him, and set about him in astonishing fashion.

There is something quite pathetic about the squabble between divorce lawyers Ray Tooth and Ayesha Vardag. Tooth, a 73 year old veteran of divorce law whose clients include Sadie Frost and Irina Abramovich, accused Vardag, Chairman of family law firm Vardags, of trying to pinch celebrity clients from him by buying Google Ad Words several months ago.

The dispute has now reached a settlement: Vardag has agreed to pay £5,000 with £38,000 costs, although it admits no fault or liability. But neither individual should perceive themselves as a winner in this debacle: it has shown both highly successful lawyers squabbling over the wreckage of super-rich and high profile marriages, apparently just as concerned about their own fame as their clients’ divorces. As such, it will only serve to confirm what many people already think of lawyers – especially divorce lawyers – and proves that there really is such a thing as bad publicity.

That the small world of London matrimonial law is also a very bitchy one is not news. When Spear’s ran its Family Law Index in April 2013, profiling the leading 20 divorce lawyers, The Times gave it full-page coverage under the headline “Divorce Lawyers Take Off Their Gloves As They Rate Rivals”. I was a journalist at Spear’s at the time and worked on that Index – and the comments we received from these lawyers about their peers (all of which were given anonymously) were astonishing: “A monster with a personality disorder” and “a thug in lawyer’s clothing” were two of my favourites.

Tooth – who gave Vardag her first family law job – has set about his former protégée with characteristic vigour, arguing that she was “biting the hand that had fed her” in buying Ad Words. A few months ago, a sponsored Google advert, now taken down, appeared when people searched for Sears Tooth; it lead people to Vardag’s website, where the following text appeared under Tooth’s firm’s logo:

Sharing elements of Ray Tooth’s flamboyant and forceful style, Ayesha Vardag has been described by senior members of the profession as the modern successor to the family law ‘crown’, which Tooth wore through the eighties and nineties.

Tooth claims that this blurb (of which the above is just an extract) tried to portray him as a spent force, and that clients were better off with flashy Vardags than with the more traditional, old-school Sears Tooth. Vardag claims she didn’t know about the wording of the ad – a “defence” which, if true, is pretty appalling, especially given the hard-hitting marketing and PR strategies she is known for.

Tooth has won a hollow victory here. Under The Times’ online coverage of the Vardag-Tooth battle a reader bluntly states: “Who gives a toss about the shenanigans of these overpaid and unpleasant people?” I don’t think Tooth or Vardag are necessarily overpaid, and I have no idea what sort of people they are – but I do think they shouldn’t need to resort to tactics like this to gain either clients or publicity. They certainly shouldn’t be just as concerned – as this rather grubby dispute has shown them to be – with their own public image as they are to do a good job for the divorcing couples they represent.

Mark Nayler is a senior researcher at Spear's magazine.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser