Solicitors' new leader denounces Tory rule ... says Tories ruled over decline

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Legal Affairs Correspondent

The solicitors' leader Martin Mears used his annual address to his profession yesterday to denounce 16 years of Tory rule as "catastrophic" for Britain.

In an unprecedented political broadside from the head of a profession traditionally in the heartland of Conservatism, he used his presidential address to the Law Society's annual conference to speak of "betrayal of the middle classes" by the party he had supported.

He stopped just short of calling on solicitors to vote Labour, but his message was clear. He said after the speech in Birmingham that Labour now better understood the importance of the professions to the country.

Previous Law Society presidents have attacked parts of government policy, but Mr Mears, who was elected this summer, went much further.

"Many people applauded Thatcherism as a kind of return to old-style Conservatism. It was, of course, nothing of the sort. Rather, it was a crude laissez faire-ism whose major tenets were that the market was always right, that it was invariably for the benefit of the consumers, that they should get the lowest possible price and that if the weakest went to the wall, so much the better for the community.

"We see the catastrophic consequences of such doctrines all around us. At one extreme we have the continuing decline of British manufacturing industry. At the other, the traditional village shop and post office have been wiped out under the competition of the huge area supermarkets."

He said he had once seen Thatcherism as the salvation of the country, but after 16 years, the nation was not at ease with itself.

"The Thatcherist state, pre-eminently, is made up of non-cohering particles, individuals elbowing, pushing, and shoving each other in a free market until, at the age of 50, they receive their compulsory redundancy package. All the professions are expected to perform in this murky pond."

Lawyers were suffering, but not because they represented a pocket of restrictive practices and outmoded attitudes. Dentists, doctors, nurses, architects and middle managers were all discontented too, he said. "We are typical."

He said the United Kingdom had one of the lowest per capita incomes in western Europe, low state pensions, a trade deficit and a car industry which imported Rolls-Royce engines from Germany.

"I could easily produce many more facts to reinforce the general picture of decline and mismanagement.

He added: "We have to refute the Government's lie that in the nation at large all is well, its policies are working and that our economy is the envy of our neighbours."