Handbags and Gladrags

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.

11 thoughts on “Handbags and Gladrags

  1. kate mallison

    As ever, very well put and sensibly thought out. Personally, I am not a fan of Mulberry bags but having bought a number of expensive work-suits between 1997 and 2001, they are evidence that quality lasts and is cheaper in the long run. I was wearing one of them in the photo of us outside Oxford Crown Court on monday. PS I gather the handbag was in fact a present.. …………..


    1. katesjc6189

      I would do the same in your shoes!! Even on a tight budget it is better to buy quality items. They represent better value for money. The difficulties from taking such decisions unfortunately come from value judgments from on high that have no basis in reality.


  2. katesjc6189

    I have always thought you Media bashed Lawyers should be YOURSELVES just like the more adventurous and similarly bashed sods on Benefits who are also unfairly maligned. So I say follow your collective hearts. You go through shit, so buy whatever it is that is your hearts desire. Life is for LIVING. So LIVE.xx


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  7. Will Clegg

    Typical that a genuine protest about a genuine issue that is threatening the future of our great profession, is simplified and almost cheapened by the lampooning press who seem to think we are all packing hundreds of Mulberry bags and Armarni suits into our wardrobes. Never mind, as you so rightly say, our cause is just and justice must prevail.


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