Tuesday, October 27, 2020
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Lay off the F-word, Lady Hale

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THIS is the era of narcissists: Mr Obama, Mr Trump, Mr Macron, Speaker Bercow and possibly (I have not decided yet) Rory Stewart.

I am sorry to say Pope Francis seems self-regarding too.

Even Lady Hale, the Supreme Court president, is not nearly self-effacing enough. She was interviewed by the BBC not long ago and talked about her feminism. She wants to be admired, which is normal in an academic (which she was) but very bad in a judge.

She spoke to a school a couple of days ago standing in front of a screen reading ‘Spider woman takes down Hulk’, i.e. the Prime Minister. 

The slide was not her fault, I concede, and it was a reasonable joke, but she should not have agreed to stand in front of it when she knew what it said.

She praised ‘girly swots’ in her speech (the phrase used in a Cabinet memo by the PM) which was not an improper thing to do – but certainly not accidental. At a moment like this, when anger is running high on both sides of the Remain-Leave divide, it was unwise and self-aggrandising.

She is typical of the Cambridge-educated academic feminists of her generation and later. Her being an academic, which is most unusual for a judge, explains her. She is part of the philosophical drift in the universities towards progressive ideas. The judges are very progressive nowadays, but the academy is much more so.

Lady Hale proudly calls herself a feminist. Margaret Thatcher, by contrast, said feminism was poison. I mention Mrs Thatcher (as she then was) to suggest that being a feminist is a political position, rather than an uncontroversial position. Judges should not have public political positions and I feel Lady Hale should stop using the F-word.

She no doubt thinks she is on the winning side of history and a progressive social force and this is justified. It’s a kind of political Calvinism.

How very different she is from the famous High Tory Lord Chancellor Eldon, who was anything but progressive. He set a face of granite against all social reforms and firmly defended hanging for all sorts of crimes, including stealing sheep and lambs (let alone sodomy).

He used to lunch each day with a Chancery crony and seek to impress the clerk by ordering only two bottles, but ‘invariably’ they drank a third before they left the table. I speak of bottles of port, not unfortified wine.

Then, according to Lord Campbell’s Lives of the Lord Chancellors, one of the two funniest books I have read (the other is Kenneth Rose’s biography of King George V), Lord Eldon proceeded to the Woolsack to deliver those judgments which continued to perplex the law of equity for half a century after his death in 1838.

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Paul Wood
Writer.

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