Lunch with... Robert Khan
PRCA director general Francis Ingham lunches with Law Society public affairs director Robert Khan at Shepherd's restaurant.
In an industry where people tend to switch jobs more frequently than Douglas Carswell switches parties, it’s gratifying to find someone with loyalty to an organisation. Or to two organisations in the case of Robert Khan, long-time Labour Party member and employee of The Law Society since 2009.
I begin by asking Khan to reflect on how the political scene had changed over the course of those eight years.
He tells me: "When I joined The Law Society in 2009, it was a very, very political environment. Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, and Cameron was coming up on the rails with Osborne. Then we had the Coalition Government -fascinating for all who interacted with it. Now, of course, we have a majority Conservative Government. So it has been a decade of tumult.
"Personally, I’ve moved back from policy into pure public affairs over the past year, and I’m very much enjoying it -there are quite a few issues that we’re having to deal with now."
Can he give me an example? Khan laughs as he says:
"How many conversations do you have in the policy or public affairs world before the subject of Brexit comes up? Clearly, there are going to be some strong challenges, but there’ll also be opportunities. We produced a report just before the vote, which noted all of the potential difficulties, but which also said that there would be opportunities for lawyers to advise their clients and to advise Governments.
"So, there are things like practice rights, about the ability of lawyers in England and Wales to practice in European capitals. If you have a judgement handed down in Paris, can you enforce it in London? After Brexit, can you rely on English Common Law? Fundamental issues like that."
I put it to my dining companion that lots of PRCA members have told me that at least in the short-term, Brexit has been good for business, because their clients have sought counsel on what on earth it means for them. Is that true for lawyers too?
"Whenever there’s a big shake-up, politically or legally, there will be work. In the long-term I think there’ll still be a lot of work for lawyers. Take an example, the Great Repeal Law, which you should properly refer to as the Great Corporation Law -a certain irony there directly incorporating into British law much of European law. The whole regulation environments in telecoms, energy, utilities etc. will all have to be sorted out, and there will be work there for solicitors."
As Khan has spoken of some of the upsides of Brexit, I feel the need to ask a key question. How dod he vote?
"I was Remain. Well, most members of the Labour Party were Remain."
What, I tease, even the Leader?
"The leader has confirmed that he was Remain."
I tease a bit further, noting that My Corbyn had campaigned ‘vigorously’ for a Remain vote. And Khan manages a straight face as he agrees. Which seems like an apposite moment to move properly onto party politics.
Khan is chair of the Planning Committee on Islington Council. So what does he makes of the current state of the Labour Party?
"Well, clearly there are some challenges. I think it would be right to say that the opinion polls are not all that we would wish them to be. But I think it’s also true that Jeremy is an honourable and decent man, and he’s been elected twice by overwhelming majorities. The Labour MPs I speak with have no appetite for any form of challenge. And Jeremy, I’m sure, will take us into the next election."
I ask what he thinks the result of that election will be, and he answers like the (non-practising) barrister he is.
"Well, it would be difficult to predict the results with some certainty, so we shall have to see."
If Mr Corbyn doesn’t end up replacing Mrs May, who does he think will be next Labour Party Leader?
"I honestly think it’s too early to say. There are some names that are certainly making a very good fist of things now. Keir Starmer for example. He’s doing extremely well on Brexit, so he’s certainly someone to watch. There are others as well. But I think it may well be that someone comes along who we now haven’t heard of."
Like Cameron did, I suggest?
Is it awkward being a Labour person working in public affairs during a period of Tory-dominance, I ask?
"I guess that’s a question you could have thrown back to public affairs professionals in the late nineties and the noughties who were Conservative -and there were many of them. The public affairs role is more about skills. It’s knowing how to build a really good, strong case for your client. Certainly, when you work in public affairs you and I both know that we have friends across the other side of the divide."
Which is certainly true. I ask my regular, final question: one thing our readers won’t know about Robert Khan that he happy to share.
Clearly being on top of his brief, he answers back immediately: "My great-grandfather was a Nawab, the equivalent of a Maharaja. Which may explain the current airs and graces."
On which note, we move gracefully to eating our starters.
Cromer crab and baked smokie to start
Shepherd’s pie for mains