The problem with Shami

A lot of people are suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn has offered Shami Chakrabarti a peerage as a reward for a report in which she “cleared” Labour of antisemitism. I don’t think that’s right. I think he offered her a peerage months ago and later asked her to do the inquiry. He should not have asked her to do both; and she should not have agreed until it was formally offered to her and and accepted by her and the relevant list was published.

Why do I think the peerage came first? Because back in January when it was announced that Chakrabarti was to stand down from Liberty, she was very cagey about what she would be doing next. You don’t generally resign from a job like that without something to go to. The Guardian noted that “She has declined to say what her next challenge will be”. That clearly suggests she knew what her next challenge would be, but did not want to say. Obviously if she had agreed to accept a Labour peerage she could not disclose that.

Similarly, in an interview with Scottish newspaper the Herald on 7 March, she said “there are lots of issues I am interested in but I am not going to tell you any more. I don’t think it will be too long before I can announce.” Those are not the words of someone who merely has an iron in the fire. She knew where she was going next. She just couldn’t announce it yet.

On 17 March Chakrabarti was interviewed by Joshua Rozenberg for Law in Action. He asked what she was going to do now. She said “I’m not completely at liberty to tell the whole truth about that”.

On 29 April 2016, faced with mounting allegations of anti-semitism in the Labour Party, Corbyn announced that Chakrabarti would conduct an independent inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party. An independent inquiry.

Obviously if he had already offered to nominate Chakrabarti for a peerage and she had agreed to accept one, this was not in fact an independent inquiry. It was an inquiry by a Labour peer in waiting.

But it seems Corbyn and Chakrabarti thought that as the public did not yet know that, they could get away with calling this an independent inquiry. Either that or they both have an abysmal understanding of what the word “independent” means.

People saying that Chakrabarti is an excellent person to be in the House of Lords are completely missing the point. She might well be, but once it was agreed that she would accept a Labour peerage, Corbyn should not have asked her, and she should not have agreed, to conduct what would be presented as an independent inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party.

If he really wanted her to do the inquiry, and she wanted to accept, she could have said “Alright I will do the inquiry but you must understand that if I do the inquiry then I can’t accept the peerage.”

Or if she didn’t want to give up the peerage, she could have said “I’m sorry Jeremy but you want an independent inquiry; as I have already agreed to accept a Labour peerage I can’t be independent, so you need to find someone else to do the inquiry.”

So to conclude: I don’t think the peerage was a reward for writing a report that concluded that the Labour Party is “not overrun by antisemitism” (it’s hardly a ringing endorsement, if you think about it.) But I do think Chakrabarti should not have been asked to conduct an independent inquiry when she had already agreed to accept a Labour peerage. And she should not have agreed to do so.

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