Fuck Off, Shami Chakrabarti

OK, so the story is this.

Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary, gave an interview to Progress magazine in which he poked fun at the notion that Davis Davis, an anti-gay, pro-hanging, right wing Tory with a history of voting for such notable pro-liberty measures as the restrictions on demonstrations in Parliament Square, had suddenly turned into a bleeding heart liberal.

His precise words were:

To people who get seduced by Tory talk of how liberal they are, I find something very curious in the man who was, and still is I believe, an exponent of capital punishment, having late-night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls with Shami Chakrabarti

Burnham is absolutely right. The thought that Davis Davis is a liberal is laughable. Those who have adopted him as their totem are fools. True liberals should be looking for a genuine civil libertarian to fight this bye election, who could challenge Davis Davis’ deep anti-liberal streak.

I thought that the image of a right wing Tory engaging in “late-night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls” with a media-savvy civil libertarian was spot on.  The thought of Davis Davis sobbing down the phone about the fate of the likes of Abu Qatada is hilarious, because it is so unlikely. I saw nothing improper in the rhetoric. Did you?

Davis Davis saw an opportunity to make political capital out of the interview. Throwing his hands up into the air in outrage, like a pantomime dame, Davis “responded by saying that, having lost the argument over freedoms, Gordon Brown’s henchmen were out attacking him”. Not a bad response, and par for the course. This is good old fashioned knockabout campaigning politics.

Burnham’s office then issued a statement

“that he had made “a light-hearted comment about the former Shadow Home Secretary’s political journey”.  It was by-election political knockabout and nothing else, the spokesman added.. “Nothing more should be read into it and no personal offence was intended to Shami Chakrabarti.”

This morning, The Times reported that “friends of Ms Chakrabarti said that she was refusing to get involved in the controversy”. Very sensible, I thought.  

Apparently she’s not so sensible. This letter was, apparently, sent to Andy Burnham, the Attorney General, and Gordon Brown, by Shami Chakrabarti:

I am writing in relation to your recent article in the ironically titled “Progress” magazine. In that article you set out to smear my dealings with the former Shadow Home Secretary. I must say that I find this behaviour curious, coming as it does from a Cabinet Minister; let alone someone with a partner and family of his own.

By your comments you debase not only a great office of State but the vital debate about fundamental rights and freedoms in this country. Indeed you seem reluctant to engage in that debate except in this tawdry fashion.

I look forward to your written apology as I’m sure does Mrs Davis. If on the other hand you choose to continue down the path of innuendo and attempted character assassination, you will find that the privileged legal protection of the parliament chamber does not extend to slurs made in the wider public domain. The fruits of any legal action will of course go to Liberty(the National Council for Civil Liberties).

How pompous and absurd. I’m distinctly unimpressed.

  1. English libel law is an outrage. It is stacked in favour of the plaintiff. Britain has become a playground for the privileged and absurd who use our disgraceful libel to suppress debate. No civil libertarian should support English libel law. In fact, they should be campaigning to reform it. They should CERTAINLY not be using it themselves.
  2. Chakrabarti, Davis and Burnham are politicians. Knockabout is the name of the game in party politics: particularly at election time. In particular, Chakrabarti has spent the last few years courting publicity: by choosing the life of a public politician, she has chosen to participate in this sort of mild rough and tumble.
  3. Does anybody think that Burnham was suggesting that Davis is fucking Chakrabarti? Seriously? Talk about late night phonecalls, with Davis playing the role of the bleeding heart liberal, are in no way a suggestion of an improper sexual affair. I had to think hard to appreciate that this is what Chakrabarti thinks the slur is.

In one fell swoop, this foolish decision has shifted the spotlight from the issues to the personalities. Given this campaign’s inauspicious start, and its unlikely protagonist, this is no surpise at all.

So, basically, fuck off Shami Chakrabarti.