Outcry in UK over peerage for Shami Chakrabarti

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Aug 05, 2016 21:21 IST
File photo of leading rights lawyer Shami Chakrabarti. (HT Photo)

Amid charges of cronyism in British politics after former prime minister David Cameron recommended his aides for peerages and other honours, a row has erupted over Labour proposing a peerage for noted human rights lawyer Shami Chakrabarti.

Banker Jitesh Gadhia is among 13 peerages recommended by Cameron as part of a “resignation honours” tradition of outgoing premiers proposing honours for politicians, advisers and supporters. Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to block his list. 

But it is Chakrabarti’s nomination by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn that has hit the most headlines, with some party MPs opposing it. Once opposed to the honours system itself, Corbyn made hers the only recommendation from his party to the House of Lords.

Chakrabarti led a recent Labour inquiry into anti-semitism in the party. Her nomination has been opposed not only by Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson but also by a Jewish group, which believes her nomination compromised the independence of the inquiry.

Watson described her nomination as a “mistake” and told BBC: “The timing is not great for the Labour party. I wasn’t aware, I wasn’t consulted whether Shami was going in. I didn’t know that we’d provided citations for this particular round, and I do think it’s a mistake.”

Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “It is beyond disappointing that Shami Chakrabarti has been offered, and accepted, a peerage from Labour following her so-called ‘independent’ inquiry.

“The report, which was weak in several areas, now seems to have been rewarded with an honour. This ‘whitewash for peerages’ is a scandal that surely raises serious questions about the integrity of Ms Chakrabarti, her inquiry and the Labour leadership.” 

Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “With just one Lords appointment, Corbyn has undermined criticism of Cameron’s list and the remaining credibility of his anti-Semitism inquiry.”

However, a spokesman for Corbyn said: “Shami Chakrabarti shares Jeremy’s ambition for reform of the House of Lords. Her career has been one of public service and human rights advocacy.

“Her legal and campaigning skills, and the trust that she has gained from many ordinary Britons, will be a considerable asset to the House of Lords. Brexit will put many hard-fought rights at risk, so it is crucial that those equipped with the right skills are given the opportunity to hold this government to account.”

Chakrabarti said: “I am honoured to accept Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge and the opportunity to help hold the government to account. This is a dangerous moment for our country and we share vital human rights values that need defending more than ever before in my lifetime.” 

A former director of the rights group Liberty, Chakrabarti was awarded a CBE in 2007, chosen to be one of eight Olympic flag bearers at the London Games of 2012 and served on the Leveson inquiry into the British press and phone hacking.

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