Labour row breaks out as Tom Watson brands Shami Chakrabarti peerage a ‘mistake’
A furious row has broken out within Labour over Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to nominate Shami Chakrabarti for a peerage in the resignation honours list.
Deputy party leader Tom Watson branded the appointment a “mistake” and argued the timing is “not great” for his party, while stressing that Ms Chakrabarti was the right kind of person to be in the upper chamber.
Ms Chakrabarti, the former director of Liberty, was the only pick of Mr Corbyn to be announced alongside David Cameron’s resignation appointments.
She recently conducted an inquiry into allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour, which reported at the end of June and concluded the party was not overrun by hostility to Jews.
It added that there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere” in the party, however.
Ms Chakrabarti’s elevation to the House of Lords drew immediate criticism, with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis arguing the “credibility of her report lies in tatters” after she accepted the peerage.
Overnight Labour MP Wes Streeting said the timing of the decision “stinks”, while his colleague John Mann argued it was “appalling”.
Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott launched a stern reply to the Labour MPs’ interventions, saying Mr Streeting should “consider his position” and attacking Mr Mann’s “extraordinary” remarks.
“Shami Chakrabarti is one of the most distinguished people in public life. She would have had a peerage under a number of Labour leaders. To say her appointment ‘stinks’, what message does that give to young women of Shami’s background about stepping into the public space,” she told Sky News.
“If we’re going to have the type of House of Lords we’ve got, then Shami is exactly the sort of person that should be in it.”
Mr Streeting responded over Twitter:
Mr Watson this week called for Labour not to appoint any new peers, arguing they should not “legitimise” Conservative plans by nominating new members of the House of Lords until the system is reformed.
Speaking this morning, Mr Watson said he had not been consulted on Mr Corbyn's decision, telling Radio 4’s Today programme: “Look, let me just say Shami Chakrabarti is precisely the sort of person you would want in the House of Lords. She is a very highly regarded human rights lawyer and we need that now.
“The timing is not great for the Labour party. I wasn’t aware, I wasn’t consulted on 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, because 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 the chamber of people who have served their country with unprecedented distinction.”
The Campaign Against Antisemitism also said the appointment undermined the validity of her report.
“If anybody still took Shami Chakrabarti’s report or Jeremy Corbyn’s declared opposition to antisemitism seriously, this must be the final straw,” said the charity’s director of communications Jonathan Sacerdoti.
“Having promised to never send anyone to the House of Lords, that is exactly what Jeremy Corbyn has done in return for a clean bill of health.”
Mr Corbyn had told Channel 4 News last year he saw “no case” for appointing new peers, while deputy leader Tom Watson this week urged the party to boycott new peerages.
But last night a spokesperson for the Labour leader hailed Ms Chakrabarti’s peerage.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
“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.”
Ms Chakrabarti herself added: “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.”