Overrated: Shami Chakrabarti
The human rights lawyer recently elevated to the Lords is no Lady Justice
(Illustration by Michael Daley)
Shami Chakrabarti has spent the last 15 years making her name as the country’s leading human rights campaigner. She left her legal role at the Home Office to join the civil liberties group Liberty the day before 9/11, and two years later became its director. Protector of habeas corpus to some, for others, such as the Sun’s Jon Gaunt, she was “the most dangerous woman in Britain”. But it was the commentator Rod Liddle who had it right, viewing her as the paragon of that incestuous coterie of “people who run us”, an unelected liberal elite she so thoroughly embodied that he coined the phrase “Six Degrees of Shami Chakrabarti” to describe her treasured place among them.
Years of praise by the people who run us have left their mark on Chakrabarti. Her 2014 book On Liberty captures just how highly she thinks of herself. The very title is an attempt to place the author in the liberal pantheon — but instead invites unfavourable comparisons and reminds us just how far faddish statist liberalism has strayed from its classical articulation by John Stuart Mill. The book’s cover, too, is hardly the picture of modesty, depicting Chakrabarti as Lady Justice herself, blindfold and all. Well, not all actually — Chakrabarti forgot that Justice carries a sword (as, by the way, does soldierly Freedom).
And that’s the crux of the whole ongoing civil liberties debate in which Chakrabarti has played such a conspicuous part: you never got the sense from her that she had any solution to the problem of Islamic terror — or even that she viewed it as particularly perilous. Instead, her offering has always been what you’d expect of one of the people who run us: warnings that terrorism’s real goal is to provoke us into implementing measures that invariably “don’t make us any safer”. Chakrabarti is no Lady Justice — but she did get the blind part right.
Chakrabarti’s media output has always been reliably one-dimensional, as if authored by a sixth-form student in an essay-writing competition, raising superficially valid points but never showing any sensitivity to the security concerns of her antagonists. Actually, that’s unfair to sixth-formers, as they usually have to show both sides of an argument. Indeed, she’s often to be found behaving like a petulant schoolgirl, huffing and pouting on panels and — in the case of Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance at the Home Affairs Select Committee’s hearings on anti-Semitism — passing notes in class to her new patron until the teacher (chairman Keith Vaz MP) told her to cut it out. Cue more pouting.
Having left Liberty earlier this year, she and her career could have been pleasantly forgettable. But then “The Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry” happened. If you don’t know what that was about, it’s by design: the Labour leadership preferred not to highlight the series of anti-Semitic episodes that have engulfed the party over the past year, which the inquiry was supposed to investigate. And what better way to sweep it all under the rug than to have Lady Justice herself do the cleaning? In return she could have the report named after her. Oh, and a peerage.
To remind you of the chronology: Labour’s Baroness Royall was tasked with investigating anti-Semitism at the Oxford University Labour Club after one of its chairs resigned in disgust at the club’s “problem with Jews”. The party leadership suppressed Royall’s report, and invited Chakrabarti to produce a more wide-ranging one on anti-Semitism “and other forms of racism” within the Labour party. This report was meant to be independent, but, for reasons that would soon become clear, Chakrabarti decided to join the party beforehand. Royall was enlisted as a deputy to this new inquiry, which, it was anticipated, would incorporate her report in full. It did not.
Chakrabarti defended the decision by noting that Royall’s report referenced individual students, whose names it wouldn’t be appropriate to publish. Royall, by now regally fed up, leaked her report. The only student mentioned by name was the one whose resignation prompted the report in the first place.
The Chakrabarti inquiry declared that Labour was “not overrun by anti-Semitism”, a conclusion undermined by the report’s release at a chaotic press conference that saw the party leader compare the Jewish State to IS and one of his Momentum lackeys oblige a Jewish Labour MP to leave the room in tears — all while Corbyn and Lady Justice delivered their remarks behind a sign saying “Standing Up Not Standing By”. The report was a whitewash.
Following a cringe-worthy interview on a Jewish channel when Chakrabarti childishly evaded questions about whether she had been offered a peerage, it was announced that she was indeed receiving one. From Jeremy Corbyn. Who had said he wouldn’t be nominating anyone to the Lords.
The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, says the credibility of her report lies “in tatters”, but he was being charitable. What really lies in tatters is the reputation, such as it was, of this underwhelming, over-promoted and grossly overrated lawyer.