David Cameron’s appointments to the House of Lords have more than a whiff of cronyism about them.
The numbers have swollen to such an extent that our unelected second chamber is one of the largest legislative chambers in the world. The argument for its existence – that it draws in significant expertise – has been undermined by the number of former special advisors and party donors that Mr Cameron has rewarded with a peerage.
The Labour Party would be in a good position to reflect public anger about cronyism in the former Prime Minister’s resignation honours list if Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t engaged in his own bout of cronyism by appointing Shami Chakrabarti to the House of Lords. With just one appointment, that will make no difference to the balance of power in the second chamber, Corbyn has undermined Tom Watson’s legitimate attack on Cameron’s cronyism.
She may be one of the country’s leading campaigners for civil liberties, but we shouldn’t pretend that everything about the timing and nature of this appointment doesn’t stink.
As a lawyer, Shami Chakrabarti will recognise three words: appearance of bias.
She was asked by Corbyn to take on the anti-Semitism inquiry, lend it her credibility and give the appearance of independence to an inquiry that Labour MPs and the Jewish Labour Movement had to fight for after months of deeply damaging examples of antisemitism going unchecked and unchallenged in our Party.
Months later, she finds herself appointed by Corbyn as one of our country’s lawmakers – the sole Labour appointment to the House of Lords. She has been a member of the Labour Party for barely five minutes, having signed up only when she was asked to lead the inquiry.
There are some serious questions that Jeremy Corbyn and Shami Chakrabarti must now answer. When was this appointment first discussed? When was it agreed? Did these events coincide with the so-called independent inquiry?
When the inquiry was announced by Jeremy Corbyn, I welcomed it. I encouraged people to engage with it. When people asked me privately if it was serious, I told them it was. When Labour MPs and peers were invited to meet with Chakrabarti the majority of our questions sought assurances that it would be genuinely independent and we were told it would be.
So I am more than a bit surprised that a peerage has been awarded in these circumstances. I am astonished that someone of Chakrabarti’s experience accepted it in these circumstances. She may have calculated that a few had headlines were worth it. After all, a peerage is for life. But it was not worth the damage it has done to the Labour Party’s reputation and the reputation of the inquiry that she led.
The Chief Rabbi has said that “the credibility of the Chakrabarti Report lies in tatters”.
It is impossible to disagree.