Nobody could have predicted that a barrister’s handbag would have featured on the Today programme on R4 the day after a significant and unprecedented protest by the legal profession.
There has been plenty said about a photograph of the protest which showed the handbag in question. Less was said about a photograph taken of the protest in Manchester that was also published by national news outlets and was splashed over Twitter.
That photograph showed a barrister holding a placard protesting at the fee cuts. The barrister in question was wearing a wax jacket (non-Barbour) that is over twenty years old and is secondhand. I know the provenance of the wax jacket as it used to belong to my farmer father-in-law and is now my coat of choice for dog walking. And striking. In wet and windy Northern weather.
So the fact that I was wearing a hand-me-down jacket of limited monetary value from before I was called to the Bar no more wins us the argument than the fact that a female barrister sported a Mulberry handbag loses it.
In some quarters I have heard the “decision” to take a Mulberry handbag to the protest as “stupid” and I have heard others describe it as naive. Elsewhere I have seen it described as an own goal. Stop it. It is none of these.
What it does reflect is our honesty. The public can have confidence that ours is a campaign with no real spin to it. We have no image consultants saying “No Mulberry, only second hand clothing, dahling, and can you all look a bit more glum please, sweetie.” Ours is an argument without spin.
We do not try to find a senior junior who took a year off to do a Masters degree and then put forward his earnings as a reflection of the true position. It is for the Government to publish the income of a senior junior when they know it represents more than one year’s work, payments to others, VAT and before expenses and spin it as representing a baarrister’s income. It is for the Government to peddle the fact that criminal practioners true earnings average £84,000 per annum based on a calculation that no one else seems able to replicate without the equation “plucked + out of = thin air”.
It is for exactly that reason that when the admirable Tony Massiah appeared on Channel 4 news the public could trust what he revealed about his own income. And why we must fight on to ensure that good, bright people, like Tony, continue to come to Bar. And they will, if their earnings do not fall too far behind the earnings of other, comparable professionals.
So next time we protest, even if your handbag of choice is a Mulberry, do not change yourself for the sake of image. That is the way of politicians. We win this fight because we are right, not because we change the side of our hair parting. And if you do carry a Mulberry be proud of the industry and skill that allowed you to buy it or the affection that lay behind the gift of it. So let us move on from handbags. It is the thing of lame journalism. A cheap point. A cheap point never won a serious argument.
PS On the photo from Manchester I look pretty glum in my wax jacket. That is not the product of an image. I just have a grumpy face. It is DNA, not PR.