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QC at the centre of Brexit legal challenge forced to defend working class background in wake of Twitter abuse

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Yes my father is an ex-Etonian author, but he denied paternity, says Jolyon Maugham

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Devereux Chambers’ Jolyon Maugham QC has come out swinging against Twitter trolls who doubted his working class background.

The top tax barrister has been faced with an onslaught of online abuse in recent weeks following his involvement in a number of Brexit legal challenges, some examples of which are embedded below.

This week, a number of tweeters rounded in on his claim he is from a working class background. In his blog’s ‘About Me’ section, Durham graduate Maugham said:

I had a difficult time at home and, from the age of 16, supported myself as a cleaner and then a secretary. At 17, I came to England [from New Zealand] initially living with an old family friend in a pit village in the North East where my grandfather’s family had lived. I worked for several years, initially as a clerk, at the BBC where I wrote a play for Radio 4 and a feature for Radio 3, before studying law. I feel keenly the need for more voices in public debate who have experienced poverty, who do not come from privileged backgrounds, and who view public policy as it impacts on people’s real lives.

But it seems the Twitter trolls can’t accept this, particularly Vote Leave’s Scottish “spokesman” Jack Montgomery.

A wave of abuse followed.

Eventually Montgomery asked Maugham whether he is the son of David Benedictus — an Eton-educated author and theatre director, whose most recent work is a Winnie the Pooh novel.

The leading barrister has remained dignified in his silence throughout the Twitter abuse, but it seems Montgomery’s question hit a nerve. Not only did he apparently block the Leave campaigner, he also made a series of tweets in seeming response.

His confessional has been met with a wave of support. One tweeter encouraged Maugham to ignore the “fools”, while another said she “never doubted” him.

118 Comments

Slithy bottom feeding worm devoid of magic circles and kaleidoscopes of mixed emotions in the seventh circle of Woo

I cannot understand the thread has too much of the comments have been deleted.

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Anonymous

Lord Lyle, is that you above ?

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Anonymous

I fear that the much missed Lord Lyle has passed onto another plane…

… or else can be found dribbling and hooting in a straitjacket and adult nappies in an institution somewhere…

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Ignoring his background, surely answering the revocability question is a good thing? It would – quite usefully if we get a poor deal, which we likely will – allow Parliament to think again following negotiations.

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Anonymous

Lyle is a nut job pussyhole

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Anonymous

It is wrong to attack the guy for his background.

He used to be one of the go-to lawyers to endorse pretty hopeless tax avoidance schemes. That is much more promising material.

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Anonymous

I’ve just had a thought…is it possible that his About Me narrative is a spoof ?

I was thinking, if I am writing a narrative about my start in life, when I got to a location, why would I not put the location ? If the pit village was Easington in County Durham, why not say so ?

Or is it finessed ? If you treat yourself to moving up the page and re reading what he has written… – we came over from New Zealand to England, initially staying in a pit village.

It may be that he stayed in a pit village for 2 weeks (and he cannot remember the name off the top of his head) with some of his grandfather’s family members.

Then, look again at when he initially worked at the BBC for several years, he started as a clerk before writing a play.

The narrative is vague, isn’t it ?

To be a clerk in the 1980s and early 1990s tended to be school leavers job.

It seems obvious that he misses out his schooling and university.

I thought “I’ll check that out for the lad”

It turns out that he did an LLB in European Legal Studies at Durham and an MA in Modern Literature at Birkbeck College London.

So, if the narrative is not a spoof, one could be forgiven for saying that missing out his education is finessing the situation to embellish the working class point.

Someone’s comment mentions a link in it to his publicist. Perhaps the finessing was the work of his publicist.

Richard Branson went to the expensive public school called Stowe. But there has been narrative of him being an entrepreneur who made it from next to nothing,over the years, do people agree ? Perhaps that narrative was publicist derived and this is a publicist pattern. Or perhaps Jolyon is the most sincere person you could ever meet, and he was forgetful the day he wrote his About Me piece. He is QC, granted, but even a QC will omit major details from a short piece on a bad day, the argument in his favour would go. 🙂

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Anonymous

He clearly misrepresented his background. Completely unnecessary in my opinion.

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Anonymous

I’m afraid this whole story came about because Maugham made the issue of his birth class central to his pitch. Unwisely, he seems to have indulged in some selective storytelling – eg talking up living in a pit village at in England, while choosing not to mention facts such as his Eton-educated, Rothschild-tutoring, biological father . He says both of his parents were university educated, indeed one attended Eton and Oxbridge. However much one can argue about the precise definition of working class, I don’t think that quite cuts it, does it?

(10)(1)

Anonymous

A tax barrister that made millions helping tax avoiders avoid tax. Basically, he shared the money that should have gone to the Exchequer to fund schools and hospitals. Now the judges are cracking down on tax avoidance (he lost his last four cases in court) he uses Brexit to launch a new career. Appointing a publicist like a wannabe celebrity demeans him and the Bar.

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Anonymous

Like an archetypal tax avoidance wheeze the Irish case is wholly artificial and contrived. Legal chicanery will not go down well in the court of public opinion.

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Anonymous

Hi! I’m Kevin Pratt. I feel for Jolyon. Whenever I tell my mates down at the bin depot about how I’m actually a distant member of the House of Windsor I get the same shit. It’s not bloody well on just judging people by the evidence and totally ignoring their story.

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Anonymous

I’m surprised the Bar Standards Board permit these things he get up to. “Manufacturing a case” in the manner he has done is still probably champerty and/or maintenance in Irish law. Yet he, as a QC, is apparently free to do it and to get the members of the public to pay for it rather than put his hand in his own pocket. Clearly the “QC” thing was a big factor in getting the public to fund the case so the Bar cannot turn a blind eye. Then he appoints a publicists and shows it off on his twitter handle alongside his “QC” title. Grubby and cringeworthy.

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Anonymous

Jealous

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Andrew F.

None of us can choose our parents, our upbringing, or the degree of early financial support that clears a path to our ambitions. Inequality of experience – and variations in aspiration and ability – must guarantee a general inequality of outcome. There is always a compelling argument to be made for encouraging social mobility, balancing regional support and the greater taxation of wealth and inheritance, but these require a governmental remedy. It is daft to disrespect successful individuals for the failure of politicians to end gross inequality.

There is a weird double standard at play here. Do we want the imaginative entrepreneurs who become mass employers, the scientists and doctors who seek cures for dread diseases and the lawyers who constantly tighten the nuts and bolts of democracy? Or are we better off without this ‘wealthy elite’, simply because we resent the possibility of their privileged upbringing? Are these people only sincere and genuine if they claw themselves free from a restrictive, impoverished background in the rustbelts of England? Is that a logical position?
Does it make any difference to their merit, either way?

If Jo Maugham were a Brexit cheerleader, pursuing legal challenges thought favourable to that cause (in reality, they are neutral) then I suggest we would see far less of this defensive class paranoia and rather more appreciation of an intelligent individual who is sacrificing his time and income to promote a Brexit outcome that observes the law and seeks to avert the economic suicide that others here seem so determined to engineer.

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Anonymous

None of us is forced to make our background an issue either …

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Anon.

Yes, it is odd Maugham felt the need to describe his background. Perhaps the thinking is that some people need to link identities before they can hear an argument. This ‘man of the people’ nonsense certainly did the trick for the millionaires, Farage and Johnson. At least Maugham has spared us silly slogans and lies on buses to go with it.

Perhaps we might question next the true motivation of our foreign secretary, the American Boris Johnson, or the Leave campaign originator, David Hannan from Peru, or their fellow Leave campaigner, the West German born Gisela Stuart … all of them shouting about the perils of immigration. Strange times indeed.

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Anonymous

… sacrificing his time and income on a publicist 🙂

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Anonymous

He claimed to have come “from a working class background” in his crowdfunding page to get money off public as a working class champion. I doubt anyone reading that would imagine he is the son of Benedictus and have been under his wing since the age of 17 after the early problems. He could have disclosed that. Similarly he always claims to have worked as a cleaner at the age of 16 before working at the BBC as a writer at the age of 17 without every mentioning his father’s then BBC connections. He makes his “working class background” a big issue and without the requisite full disclosure the claim is ultimately misleading.

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Anonymous

I think the people who crowdfunded him were more likely persuaded by his argument for clarity on Article 50 reversal, rather than his working class credentials. It may not seem important right now, but the snowballing list of post-Brexit expenses and obligations could see our economy in freefall long before those exit negotiations finish in 2018.

Masses of families could find themselves in big financial trouble, so it seems a good idea to check now if there’s a key to the escape hatch. Yes, I do mean by that another referendum. Democracy is a flexible, evolutionary concept intended for our benefit, not our destruction.

It is utterly irresponsible to lack this reversal ruling before triggering Article 50, but the government thinks a shot in the dark is good enough for the plebs. The rich won’t suffer.

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Anonymous

And who elected him to this role? Staggering arrogance and narcissism.

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Anonymous

He elected himself! I agree it’s incredibly arrogant of this lawyer to interfere by trying to make a vital, but completely opaque, matter of law clear to us all, so that we will know where we stand just before our country goes completely down the toilet in 2018.

These do-gooders are a pain. He’s a bit like an arrogant mechanic, insisting he checks your car electrics over, just because he’s seen some a whiff of smoke inside and thinks it might burst into flames with you and all your family inside. Just a selfish, interfering git!

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Anonymous

Nonsense. He campaigned vociferously for Remain. At the time he did not raise any of these “opaque issues of law”, which a fair minded person interested in law and due process would have raised. If Remain had won, he wouldn’t have raised them either. He’s only doing this now to advance the Remain cause. To dress it up as anything else is dishonest.

Andrew F.

Your argument is not quite on all fours. The legal uncertainties over Articles 50 and 128 – issues of Brexit process – became relevant only because the referendum vote did NOT go to Remain. Maugham had no reason to raise these questions before the vote. Would you consult a doctor over an illness you do not yet have?

As for his dedication to the Remain cause, he makes no secret of it and clearly believes that Brexit is a mistake. My own view is that we should proceed with wide eyes and full knowledge of the law, regardless of whom that may benefit.

Anonymous

Silly analogy of the type Maugham makes in his blog makes one wonder if he’s fighting his corner here as “Anonymous” 🙂

Anonymous

Meddlesome interloper 🙂

Anonymous

“He elected himself” is a fair definition of narcissism!

Anonymous

You could say Nelson Mandela was ‘self-elected’ in that he put himself forward to defend something he believed in. Should he have melted away from publicity, lest he be thought too narcissistic in taking a personal stand against apartheid?

If we can only move as a pack or a herd, there is only one voice and one direction.
Human progress demands more individuality and foresight than that.

Anonymous

The comparison of an enabler of tax avoidance with Nelson Mandela is another indicator of the true identity of the writer 🙂

Anonymous

Yes, tax avoiders and racial equality campaigners are unlikely bedfellows. IMO the narcissistic comments were silly anyway, I’d rather think about real issues. I can agree with the last bit though. We do need to keep listening to the ideas of individuals, not just the roar of an angry crowd.

Anonymous

Ridiculous comparison!

Anonymous

I fail to hear the drowning “roar of the angry crowd” when the country is pretty much evenly divided. As someone that voted for Remain I can’t support this attempt to rewrite the rules.

Anonymous

Making this a rich-poor issue (which is precisely why felt the need to concoct the working class background story) is disingenuous. The pooorest parts of the country voted most for Brexit despite the warnings of economic Armageddon. A second referendum won’t change that.

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Anonymous

I think Maugham was explaining he doesn’t identify naturally as a member of the ‘rich liberal elite’ who attract such populist scorn. I believe he cares about the welfare of the dispossessed Leave voters but, unlike them, regards Brexit as the weapon of their final destruction, not a pass to a sunlit future. The economic indicators suggest he is right.

If Project Fear testing reveals the truth, the poorest parts of the country will suffer the most hardship when EU regional funding ends. The burden of national debt and the shrinkage of the economy will hit hard. Faced with a highly unlikely Utopia over the rainbow, or the nostalgic familiarity of a gentler EU past, the public demand for another referendum could become deafening.

Who says we should not vote on the reality – not just the vague promises – of Brexit?

(1)(6)

Anonymous

Many of us care about others but wouldn’t dare to arrogate to ourselves a divine right that does not exist either in law or in the constitution. Maugham should stand as an MP if he wants to play politics.

Anonymous

“A divine right that does not exist either in law or in the constitution”.
You are talking about Theresa May’s approach to Brexit, I take it?

Maugham isn’t playing politics. But May is definitely playing the law.

Anonymous

No. Talking about Maugham who’s also been publicly moaning ceaselessly since Corbyn won the Labour leadership election the first time. His obvious diffulty in accepting results that don’t go his way indicates a contempt for the views and decisions of others.

Anonymous

Regarding Corbyn, it just shows common sense.

Brexit sacrosanctum hominis est

‘Vote on the reality’ of Brexit? You must be joking! I’m not listening to you any more. Fingers in ears, everybody. Now, after me: La La La La La La La La La La

Anonymous

In many people’s books a man that makes a living defending tax wheezes only “members of the rich liberal elite” can afford, who found some £1-2 to buy and restore a historic windmill he lives in etc is a member of the rich liberal elite.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

As to the Nelson Mandela comment, which someone seems to think may come from Mr Maugham himself, I make this comment:

If you watch the film of Mandela’s biography, to the trained eye, it is clear that Mandela has his middle class living shut off to him. He has a number of cases before the Court and the Judge, in essence, tells him off the record but sternly something along the lines that as the issues are raised by a black lawyer concerning black people, he should forget about them.

Is one entitled to speculate in this instance too that Mr Maugham, who has now cut himself off from junior work by dint of the Bar’s restrictive practice for QCs only taking on senior work, needs to find another income stream because of imminent legal changes in tax and EC law ?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that in a legal career it is foreseeable that your income stream can dry up and you have to diversify. If you are a QC swimming in this stream, it may be difficult to do that.

You make a fortune by privilege, you occasionally get levelled by privilege too – as the cliché goes.

Legal Aid lawyers went on strike when their middle class income stream dried up. There was not the work within Article 50 to employ any of them, in those days.

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Anonymous

Before painting daddy in such a bad light, I wonder how much his father was allowed access by the mother?

Many men give up after contact is made difficult for them. Like, say, by the mother moving to New Zealand.

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