If anything can save Britain, it is the national gift for mockery. The country was startled last week to discover that it was run by Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, who told the Prime Minister that his prorogation of Parliament was “unlawful.” He had “misled” the Queen with his advice to her. The law then smote the executive to the floor, though his advice had been perfectly normal, accepted by the High Court, until 10:30AM on September 24. Subsequently we learned more of the court’s president. She and the media had been reticent about her full name and title, which is: Brenda Marjorie Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond. At this disclosure a hundred quills leapt from their inkwell. BRENDA? For many years, it must be getting on for half a century, Private Eye has referred to Queen Elizabeth as “Brenda.” The wits can now speak of the Supreme Court judgment as “A Tale of Two Brendas.” And indeed the peremptory manner of Lady Hale’s ruling does put in mind the well-loved sitcom “Are You Being Served?” I had guessed, wrongly, that the Court might split its ruling, say, 8-3. It would look better. But it came out as 11-0. As Mrs. Slocombe would say, “In this I am unanimous.”
Private Eye is “the abstract and brief chronicles of the times.” It should be read alongside the Telegraph, which is the Pravda of the Right. An excellent archival service comes with the Eye, and in its current number we learn that Lady Hale fifteen years ago came before a Commons select committee. The Daily Mail sketch writer described her thus: “Ski jump nose, a mop of greyblack hair, lightly-whiskered chin, paisley scarf, quite bad teeth, and a trendy pair of spectacles. Much of the time she clipped a pitying smile to her narrow lips.” The “teeth” we can regard as par for the nation: as I often point out, many Americans get their teeth fixed pre-natally and thereafter have only to keep up maintenance payments. At the time, the sketchwriter was much maligned by the legals, who thought it out of order for questioning a judge’s political sympathies. Today we find such questioning as common and Rialto talk. Hale is a rank Remainer.
The Age of Deference, as all the world knows, is history. It went out with the Antonine Age (Tony Blair’s, that is). Lady Hale can expect more maltreatment in the Press, such as this profile headline in the Daily Mail: “Ex-barmaid with a spider brooch who spun legal web that snared PM.” She may well look forward to the end of a career devoted to breaking down barriers, especially those which got in her way. It is known that she aspires to climb that Matterhorn of masculinity, the Garrick Club, a gentleman’s club whose members, many of them lawyers, carouse beyond the reach of womenkind. Women can enter the club only as guests, and by the back entrance. It is a prime target for Lady Hale’s crusading zeal. She reaches the mandatory retirement age in January. What further barriers await her wrecker’s ball?