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Law and politics: Is the romance finally over?

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Fewer MPs have a background in law

There is a long and logical tradition of kinship between lawyers and the legislature: the houses of parliament have on occasion been led by lawyers (David Lloyd George, Tony Blair) and are regularly topped up with lawyers: the current cohort of MPs from the general election in 2017 has an 11% lawyer intake, the second largest group after business (14%) outside politics. Those MPs are well known to us: Geoffrey Cox QC, Chuka Umunna, Dominic Grieve QC, Lucy Frazer QC, Keir Starmer QC, Helen Grant and so on and on.

But this percentage is down on the steady 15% lawyer-parliamentarians that has been the norm ever since the 1970s.

Last Autumn, at the height of the debates over the EU Withdrawal Bill, the attorney-general Geoffrey Cox QC talked about the “growing divergence” between the legal profession and politics, telling the media: “How can we expect that our politicians will have a constructive voice whispering of the fundamental importance of justice and its administration?”

This may have been a reflection in a drop in the number of barristers in parliament: the percentage of individuals from the bar has dropped from 10% (in 1979) to around 6% (in 2015); the percentage of solicitors has increased in the same period from 4.7% to 8.1%.

But may be he was onto something.

If you look at the UK’s most recent party, the Brexit Party, launched in April 2019 with 29 MEPs sitting in Brussels following the European elections in May, there is only one lawyer among them: Andrew England Kerr, who runs a firm of solicitors in Birmingham.

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There were a couple of former UKIP MEPs who studied law, David Coburn (Leeds University) and Margot Parker (De Montfort University), but they are no longer MEPs. The Brexit Party does have another lawyer in the Welsh Assembly, Mark Reckless, who was called to the bar in 2007, and subsequently spent some time at Herbert Smith, now Herbert Smith Freehills. (Reckless recently made headlines when he took on Lord Sumption, former Supreme Court justice, during the final Reith lecture for the top court’s role in the Article 50 case.)

Perhaps this low representation of lawyers is no surprise given that two-thirds of the legal profession tends towards favouring remaining in the EU.

But up until the Brexit Party, the lawyer-politician thing was not that party-specific. Within the two major parties, the numbers from the legal profession are fairly even (though the Lib Dems do appear to be rather lawyer-heavy): In 2015, (so not our current parliament) figures show that of the Tories, 17% were from the legal profession, for Labour it was 12% (the Lib Dems 25%).

Perhaps the low numbers of lawyers among the Brexit Party candidacy signifies a new era of politics: fragmented, single-issue, polarised — and the end of the romance between law and politics.

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17 Comments

Anonymous

WE MUST LEAVE ON 31 OCTOBER. #democracy

(14)(18)

ZONE 1

Is Tom out of bed yet?

(22)(1)

Anonymous

Reading RoF now, will publish new exclusive ASAP.

Tom

(20)(0)

ZONE 1

Need to check for a new Eve vlog first

– Adam

(13)(2)

A better than normal article

With how woefully drafted some legislation is, you would hope that the number of lawyers in circulation is adjusted accordingly.

That may result in more, but I would otherwise welcome less if what came about was a more coherent reading of our governing rules.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Surely the current ineptitude should just result in A) more lawyers being hired into senior civil service and special advisory roles and B) greater reliance on, and thus an increase in numbers in, the GLS.

Also, do you really want to risk being represented in government by a lawyer who thinks “you know what will improve my career prospects? Becoming a politician”?

(0)(0)

Sex and Violins

Agreed. Drafting legislation and formulating policy are very different things. Politicians not being lawyers is not a problem provided that the people who turn their policies into legislation are competent lawyers.

However the problems with most modern legislation have a lot to do with the fact it is churned out without proper scrutiny.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

We have made being an MP in to an extremely horrible job. It should not surprise us at all if that impacts the candidates willing to do it.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

It’s harded to get selected as a candidate for a safe seat than almost any other job. This argument doesn’t wash.

(3)(1)

Local Association Member

Not if you’re a serious candidate who’s accrued a strong resume over the years. If you’ve been a local councillor, have excellent experience out of politics (running a business, working as a QC or senior banker, being an officer in the Army etc.) and are genuinely personable and enthusiastic, you’ll be invited to stand for at least two or three safe seats. The chances are that you’ll be selected for at least one.

The problem is that a large majority of prospective candidates are morons and carpetbaggers. They’ve often got absolutely no experience in politics (nor have even campaigned seriously, often viewing everywhere outside London with thinly veiled contempt) and assume that working in the utterly vacuous field of ‘communications’ for a few years will merit them a safe seat. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with experience within Westminster, if that’s all you hav going for you then you’re unlikely to impress local members.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

This is largely down to the professionalisation of politics.

I will talk from my own personal knowledge of the Labour Party. To be a Labour MP (putting aside that for the last 4 years you have to have been an irrational Corbyn obsessive) you have to be wholeheartedly involved in the party for years. That means attending meetings, getting on committees, networking constantly.

You need to get to know people in the region in which you want to be selected. This means going out canvassing in that region, getting to know the people who run the regional parties, meeting members over several years, and getting told earlier than is publicly known when a seat is due to come up for selection.

It also helps if you are in with the leadership and have a chance of being the leadership’s preferred candidate.

All this is perfectly compatible with having a job in politics – e.g. working for an MP, think tank, or as a special advisor. In the course of your job you will be doing all of the above. Additionally, your employer will give you time off work to seek selection (probably paid time off).

It is less compatible with being a lawyer. You work mental hours so have less time for the above, particularly if you have a family. You essentially need to throw your legal career under the bus in the faint hope of getting selected anywhere – which few are prepared to do.

On barristers specifically – the bar has turned from a profession where you could sit on your arse half the time while collecting the odd over-inflated fee to becoming more modern and professionalised – quick turnovers of work, more frequent court appearances, and clients who demand work to be done yesterday already. Less compatible with playing politics – and a far cry from the old days where you could waltz up to a selection meeting and everybody would be impressed by the clever barrister.

(14)(1)

Anonymous

That’s why the country’s going to hell and leftist idiots are running it into the ground with dumb policies. Lol.

(2)(5)

Anonyman

“Perhaps the low numbers of lawyers among the Brexit Party candidacy signifies a new era of politics: fragmented, single-issue, polarised — and the end of the romance between law and politics.”

What a daft conclusion. How is this a reputable correlation to make? The Brexit Party has chosen candidates from a myriad of backgrounds due to its broad support base, rather than solely appealing to wealthy liberal elitists who live in leafy parts of London.

(4)(10)

Anonymous

Fragmented is the same as saying a myriad of backgrounds. Single focus is what the brexit party is all about. The attitudes that manifest around the topic of brexit are also very polarised.

The conclusion appears to be a pretty sound one to make. Unsure why you making those statements has ruffled your feathers so.

(6)(2)

Anonymous

“…the percentage of individuals from the bar has dropped from 10% (in 1979) to around 6% (in 2015); the percentage of solicitors has increased in the same period from 4.7% to 8.1%.”

That’s your problem right there.

Experienced barristers used to be the backbone of the Commons. Articulate, clever and humane experts on law and its creation and effect. Most importantly, barrister MPs are instinctively independent-minded.

Now we have a load of toadying solicitors who couldn’t recognise a relevant fact or argument if it bit them on the arse. These people are halfwits, nodding vigorously and inanely to their parties’ front benches, just as they learned to do to clients in conference.

(3)(2)

BP

Any reason Legal Cheek has recognised the QC status of all the appropriate men they list, but not the one woman (Lucy Frazer)?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Unconscious bias, obviously.

(2)(0)

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