The row emerging around Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to nominate civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti for a place in the House of Lords highlights the Labour party’s key problem: The leadership team is an absolute mess.
Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday morning that he had absolutely no idea Corbyn had chosen to nominate Chakrabarti.
“I wasn’t aware, I wasn’t consulted whether Shami was going in,” Watson said. “I didn’t know that we’d provided citations for this particular round, and I do think it’s a mistake.”
The apparent lack of communication between the Labour leader and his deputy is stunning. Not only does it do nothing to dispel the narrative that the party is torn down the middle, but it subjects the party to yet another needless humiliation at a time when all bad press really ought to be avoided.
Corbyn’s decision to nominate Chakrabarti has been attacked for numerous other reasons. Last year, the current Labour leader promised the party would “not nominate new peers for the Lords” and has been a vocal critic of the honours system in the past, which has led to charges of hypocrisy being brought against him.
Secondly, Chakrabarti — who was the party’s only nomination for a peerage — oversaw the party’s recent investigation into antisemitism, which was criticised by MPs for being a “total whitewash” because they claimed it failed to tackle specific cases of antisemitism within the party directly.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews says that Chakrabarti’s nomination served to compromise the independence of the inquiry. “The report, which was weak in several areas, now seems to have been rewarded with an honour,” the group’s vice president Marie van der Zyl told the Guardian. “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 John Mann, who has been critical of Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism in the past, said there was “no credible, valid explanation” for the nomination. “It’s the equivalent of cash for peerages,” he told The Times. “It’s cash for a report. She’s sold herself cheaply to get into the Lords”
Watson was keen to stress that the problem with Chakrabarti’s nomination has nothing to do with her credentials.”Shami Chakrabarti is precisely the sort of person you would want in the Lords,” the Labour deputy leader said. “She’s a very highly regarded human rights lawyer, and we need that now.”
But the problem with this nomination has nothing to with the suitability of Chakrabarti. The fact that Corbyn took this decision without the consultation of his right-hand man tells you all you need to know about the current state of the party’s leadership team. It is in total disarray.
This should not come as a surprise. When Corbyn was being pressured by MPs to stand down earlier this summer, Watson told the Labour leader he had “no authority” and was later refused to speak to Corbyn one-on-one by the veteran socialist’s aides.
Watson refused to resign in the midst of the coup against Corbyn’s leadership and for that he should probably be admired. But, at the moment, the working relationship between himself is almost non-existent.
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