Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, has criticised his party’s decision to nominate the human rights and civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti for a peerage, saying it was “a mistake” and that he had not been consulted.
“The timing is not great for the Labour party,” Watson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme following Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to put Chakrabarti forward, a move that has attracted condemnation from other Labour MPs.
“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,” Watson said.
The decision has also been criticised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which said it compromised the independence of an inquiry into antisemitism in the party, recently headed by Chakrabarti for Labour.
Marie van der Zyl, the group’s vice-president, 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.”
Watson stressed he had no issue with Chakrabarti herself but criticised the wider issue of David Cameron’s resignation honours list.
“Shami Chakrabarti is precisely the sort of person you would want in the Lords,” Watson said. “She’s a very highly regarded human rights lawyer, and we need that now.”
He continued: “I don’t agree with resignation honours – I think Labour should be very clear that this is a discretionary power that should be removed from outgoing prime ministers. I don’t want laws to be made in the chamber of David Cameron’s friends. I want it to be made in a chamber of people who served their country with unprecedented distinction.”
Other Labour MPs have also criticised the party leader’s decision to nominate Chakrabarti given the row over cronyism engulfing Cameron and No 10.
Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North, said: “With just one Lords appointment, Corbyn has undermined criticism of Cameron’s list and the remaining credibility of his antisemitism inquiry.”
Others criticised Corbyn for deciding to nominate a peer after having said last year that he saw no reason to recommend any when the system needed reform. However, it is understood he has since felt the need to keep up the party’s numbers in the Lords as much as possible, especially since Cameron has nominated 13 peers.
Asked about the criticism, a Corbyn spokesperson said in a statement: “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.”
Chakrabarti, former director of the rights group Liberty, 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.
This article was written by Peter Walker and Rowena Mason, for theguardian.com on Friday 5th August 2016 08.43 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010