“Please stick to driving trains” comment comes just weeks after “white van man” Twitter storm
Karl Turner has been part of Labour’s front-line law officer team for only days, but the Shadow Solicitor-General has already had to defend himself against claims of tumbling into a trap similar to Emily Thornberry’s white van man tweet.
Barrister Turner — who has taken social media grief for being less robust in his opposition to the government’s legal aid cuts following his promotion — batted away suggestions that he patronisingly told a Twitter commentator to lay off criticising Labour and to “stick to driving trains”.
The exchange is below:
The Twitter quip from the MP for Hull East follows Thornberry’s tweet that resulted in the Shadow Attorney-General standing down and it could ramp up criticism that senior Labour figures hold the working classes in disdain.
The exchange appeared to show that when a commentator describing himself as a train driver — a chap called Phil Colborne — dared to raise a legitimate point of legal profession and public concern, Turner dismissed him with a pat on the head.
Colbourne’s apparent offence was to ask Turner whether Labour would reverse the cuts that have so infuriated legal aid lawyers. Indeed, Turner went on to inform Colbourne that his “XX [cross examination] is poor”.
But he is not alone in being on the receiving end of the new S-G’s apparent condescension. And, as Legal Cheek reported recently, when lawyers asked Turner whether a future Labour government would reverse the cuts, he tweeted the simple and obtuse line: “Patience is a virtue.”
But Turner — who completed his bar training in 2005 before practising for four years from Max Gold Solicitors in Hull — defended his comments to Legal Cheek yesterday, saying the train driver is a constituent, that he and Colbourne are “Twitter mates” and that they often exchange social media banter.
The MP — who has been a Labour whip for the last three years and continues in that office with responsibility for whipping the party’s justice team — went on to make a robust defence of his stance regarding the coalition government’s cuts to legal aid.
“My position hasn’t changed one iota,” he said. “I remain extremely anxious about the impact of cuts to civil legal aid. And I have spoken out repeatedly in Parliament against the proposed reforms to the criminal defence system.”
Turner said he was adamant that the government’s measures “will not bring in any extra money to the Treasury”. He went on to speculate that the government’s agenda was to create a system in which “only the likes of G4S, Serco and Stobart will apply for contracts.” He added: “The Lord Chancellor has a pernicious ideology of moving towards a system where the service is operated by only big suppliers”.
Nonetheless, Turner stopped short of calling on Labour’s justice team to make a public commitment to reversing the coalition’s reforms. But he did claim to be lobbying the top brass on the issue behind the scenes.
“I’m only one person in the parliamentary Labour Party,” he said. “And I’m grown up enough to recognise that when Labour wins the next general election — which I believe we will do — there will be only a certain amount of money to go round, and there will be many competing interests.”