Long ago, my student flatmates and I maintained an old green exercise book, a remnant of somebody’s schooldays. Vaguely progressive types to a man, we filled it with the names of dubious persons deserving the label ‘common-sense iconoclast’. An idle and pretentious entertainment, to be sure. We were young.
More often than not, such persons were reactionary old buffers with a media platform (I can’t remember any women) who wanted no truck with the ‘modern world’. In sport, the lugubrious Yorkshire cricketer Fred Trueman – ‘it were never like this in my day, we used to carry on playing in t’snow’ – was their standard-bearer.
But our patron saint was the long-deceased Sir John Junor. This famously bilious tabloid editor would greet such abominations as trendy vicars, hirsute social workers and over-zealous traffic wardens with the deathless phrase ‘pass the sick bag, Alice’. Even in the 1980s this seemed preposterously archaic. We laughed like drains back then. We’re not laughing now.
For what I realise is that such cartoon curmudgeons were the heralds of a culture war. A war which, though it may have begun harmlessly enough, has taken a much darker turn. The Spectator’s Katy Balls explained it very well in a recent article for the Independent. She adds that, in seeking to maintain his electoral advantage in trying times, the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues are courting socially conservative voters. ‘Their aim?,’ she writes. ‘A tougher line on political correctness [of course]’, but also immigration, and law and order.
And it is with reference to these imperatives that I will finally get to the point. Lawyers, traduced so disgracefully by Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, are so much collateral damage in this never-ending offensive. The gaslight can be seen for miles. Though we are governed by the most authoritarian government in recent history, the fiction must be maintained that real power lies elsewhere. With the legal profession. With ‘do-gooders’. With other assorted undesirables who are not prepared to genuflect in the face of executive fiat.
Will it stop when a law firm has its windows smashed, or worse, a lawyer is physically attacked? I wouldn’t count on it. Not while it resonates with the voters.