Enemies of the people 2.0?
The Daily Telegraph’s front page this morning is a controversial one, featuring a line-up of politicians they brand “Brexit mutineers”. Oh, and a disproportionate number of these MPs are lawyers.
The right-wing newspaper has claimed Theresa May is facing a rebellion from within the party, several of its MPs accused of a “mutiny” that “threatens to wipe out the Prime Minister’s majority and plunge the party into crisis”.
These claims come amid discussions on fixing the United Kingdom’s exit date into law. The government’s plan is to insert an amendment into the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, currently at its committee stage, saying Brexit will happen at 11pm on 29 March 2019. But with some MPs reportedly not keen on this amendment, “there are fears among some Brexit-supporting Tories that if the date of Brexit is not written into law, there will be a last-minute attempt to keep Britain in the EU”.
So who are these “Brexit mutineers”? On The Telegraph’s cover today, we have 15 Tory MPs: Dominic Grieve, Bob Neill, Antoinette Sandbach, Paul Masterton, Tom Tugendhat, Jeremy Lefroy, Vicky Ford, Oliver Heald, Sarah Wollaston, Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Heidi Allen, Kenneth Clarke, Jonathan Djanogly and Stephen Hammond.
Of these, many have a law background. Grieve, who the newspaper claims is the leader in this “mutiny”, is a silk who specialised in occupational safety and health law turned former attorney general. Neill is a non-practising criminal barrister, who now heads up the Justice Committee. Sandbach was a criminal barrister in London for 12 years; Masterton is ex-Pinsent Masons; and Heald studied law at Cambridge before practising as a barrister in East Anglia for two decades.
There’s more: Soubry is a former criminal barrister who studied law at the University of Birmingham; Morgan practised at Travers Smith as an M&A specialist; Clarke is a Cambridge law graduate and Djanogly trained and worked at King & Wood Mallesons’ forerunner SJ Berwin.
So that means nine of these 15 MPs are lawyers (and that’s not including Tugendhat, who interestingly is the son of High Court judge Michael Tugendhat). That’s 60%, a pretty disproportionate figure when you consider there are 91 lawyers among parliament’s 650 elected representatives (14%). Funny, then, that The Times columnist Matt Chorley said the newspaper article looks like “the opening credits to an underwhelming sitcom set in a no win, no fee solicitors”.
Aside from the jokes, the reaction to today’s front page has largely been one of disdain. Actor David Schneider said:
Daily Telegraph, June 2016:
“Make Parliament sovereign again!”
November 2017: pic.twitter.com/USxw0rzRCa
— David Schneider (@davidschneider) November 14, 2017
Other reactions include MP (and lawyer!) Will Quince’s description of the heading as “disgraceful”, while Labour secretary Ulrich Stephane Savary thinks the newspaper deployed “bullying tactics”. And then there’s Labour campaigner Tom Wilson, who tickled us with this comment:
All the Telegraph have managed to do here is provide them with a new name for their WhatsApp group. pic.twitter.com/2dUblV5PKy
— Tom Wilson (@feedthedrummer) November 15, 2017
The last time a front page of lawyer photos took social media by storm in this way was pretty much a year ago, when the Daily Mail posted its extremely controversial ‘ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE’ headline.
Lawyers and other spectators watched in horror as the ever-increasing hostility between the profession and tabloid media reached fever pitch in the fallout from the Miller decision, the right-wing press branding the High Court judges that decided the case “out of touch” (and worse).
The article, despite being over a year old now, is frowned upon to this day and is at least partly credited with sealing the downfall of then Justice Secretary Liz Truss. We wonder if today’s Telegraph report will cause such as stir.