The revolution has just begun
7 February 1996
The central issue in this election is simple - did you like the Law Society as it was before the Mears/Sayer revolution? If you did (and only if you did), then Tony Girling and his associates are the men for you.
But does Girling, in fact, represent the old regime? He can hardly deny it. After next month, he will be the longest serving member of the Law Society's Council. Last year, the council chose him as its official candidate for the deputy vice-presidency. He has served upon just about every Law Society committee which ever existed. If there is such a thing as Homo Chanceryensis, he is it.
Our main opponents know that they have no hope of winning by calling for a return to the good old days. The good old days are too recent and people remember them too well.
What, then, can their strategy be? Part of it we have seen during the past nine months. Again and again, Sayer and I have been rubbished, often in terms of the most virulent personal abuse. This month, for example, one of last year's defeated candidates, John Aucott, sent a newsletter to all his constituents in which he asked the rhetorical question: "Martin Mears, saviour, fool or knave?" He did not conclude that I was a saviour.
Then, we had the so-called Campaign for New Leadership. This puzzled me at first. When I saw the names of its committee members, I had heard of none of them. Who could they be? I thought it unlikely that they were ordinary apolitical solicitors. I made enquiries.
Sure enough, nearly all of them turned out to be Law
Society groupies of one sort or another, establishment hacks rallying for the restoration of their king across the water.
It is these groupies who act as Girling's bovver boys. It is they who put the boot in while their more gentlemanly associates look sideways holding their noses. The bovver boy tactic, if not subtle, is simple and effective: bellow at the top of your voice that Mears and Sayer are a disaster and are pursuing policies prejudicial to the public interest. Then, when you have stopped shouting, say with aggrieved surprise: "Look, they are bringing our good name into disrepute. Hand the Law Society back to Buggins. Only he can restore respect for the profession." It is as though one went round calling someone a child molester and then complained that he had a bad reputation.
In this piece, at least, I shall not attempt to argue the merits of our policies. I assume that anyone interested in the issues will read the election manifestos; that is what I ask every solicitor to do. Our main opponent's manifesto, clearly, has been written by a committee. That's no surprise - the old regime thinks, breathes and lives as a committee. And the manifesto contains something for everyone. Every promise is equally significant or equally insignificant (for example: "We will focus on more practical support for solicitors"). Last year's establishment candidate, Henry Hodge, produced a document full of material of almost exactly the same sort.
In saying all this, I do not intend to denigrate Tony Girling personally. He is a man of integrity who has worked hard for the profession over the years. If we win, we will try to involve him in our counsels and decision making. He would be entitled to that, if only by virtue of the fact that he undoubtably represents a significant body of opinion.
What of Anthony Bogan? Until almost the close of nominations, he had me believing he was a warm supporter differing only on the question of whether the Law Society should be divided into separate regulatory or representative bodies. Belatedly, he discloses that he was a secret opponent all along. Well, well!
Bogan's basic position, of course, is absurd. Why should anyone vote for him to be president of the society solely to enable him to destroy it? And if his only concern is to canvass the profession's wishes on the separation issue, why does he not accept our offer to put the question to a referendum?
In the past 12 months, Robert Sayer and I have made a start on reforming the Chancery Lane culture. In that short time, we have notched up considerable achievements. We have also made mistakes and suffered setbacks. We have learned from both. The profession, I hope, will now give us the chance to finish the job.