Shami Chakrabarti

Shami Chakrabarti and Lynne Featherstone MPBig annual social at my house. There is a huge turnout because our guest speaker is Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty. She is a complete star – comes early – stays late and entirely captivates the audience who are natural territory for Liberty. Many of my members are her members – and I think she recruits quite a few more by the end of play. Why does Shami work so well? I think it is because she hasn’t sold out to anyone. She really does fight for right and justice – and in a non-partisan way. And it’s interesting hearing her talk about the difference between coming to this event and similar ones organised by other parties!She can reach beyond the TV screen or radio direct into people’s lives because the language she uses and the pictures she paints with her words pull on people’s instincts and conscience.In the current climate of authoritarian governance there is a pressing need for all voices of freedom and human rights to rise up together as Labour continues its juggernaut assault on our civil liberties. Every Bill that I come across removes our rights and increases the power of the state. These are frightening times.    

Labour and civil liberties

I go to speak at the Liberal Democrat London Region Conference. I, Susan Kramer MP and Sarah Ludford MEP are on a panel answering questions from the attendees. However, the earlier debate is heated and running overtime and Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty has already arrived and is timed for 4.30pm – so I suggest to my co-panellists that we cut our session from an hour down to just half an hour. So that’s what we did.

Shami did a truly star turn. She has a phenomenal use of the English vocabulary – and a delivery that is very winning in manner. And of course, she is delivering music to Lib Dem ears – the civil liberties agenda. Her job must be a constant delight – to fight the good fight – and get paid for it! I think she is an excellent proponent and a real champion of this agenda.

She slides through all the terrible thefts we have witnessed since Labour came to power. From Control Orders, to ID cards, to proposals to remove trial by jury, to religious hatred legislation (removing free speech), to banning behaviour as a substitute for real cure, to the terror laws and the extension of detention without charge, to retention of DNA records on a national police database regardless of guilt or innocence – to name just a few. These are not just the ones that Shami brought up – but they are what has become a litany of loss. Shami finished with the shameful move to accept evidence got by torture. One wonders where it will end and just how far this will go.

Any Questions

Surgery ’til lunchtime and then – after a bit of paperwork – off to Norwich for Any Questions. I catch the 4pm train from Liverpool Street with newspapers, briefings and blank paper and pens and spend the journey trying to work out what the questions might be.

When I get up to get off, I discover my co-panellist, Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty, is in the seat just in front. A car is there to meet us and take us to the restaurant – where Jonathan Dimbleby and John Bercow (Tory) are already seated for dinner. He now bears the ‘moderate’ tag in the Tory party and is a keen Ken Clarke supporter. David Miliband (Labour, minister) is not yet there. About three quarters of an hour into the dinner – Miliband arrives with assistant in tow. We are all strictly told not to bring assistants to the dinner – but Ministers and power and status you know. The atmosphere changes immediately. There is something quite chilling about Labour automatons – natural conversation diminishes and careful phrasing and tones take over. Strangely enough, in the anteroom when we arrive at the venue for the show, the coldness disappears just briefly and the human being can be glimpsed – completely charming.

Anyway – there is a warm up question on Pinter (not broadcast, but done to get us all into the swing of things) and then we are on. First up is the judgement on the Zimbabwe asylum seeker. Although he lied in his application, the courts have found the Government wanting and in neglect of their duty as they returned people to places without worrying enough about the human rights situation in the place they’re returning them to. Shami, John and I all welcome the decision – and Milliband mutters about a rethink. Jonathan Dimbleby asks me if I am encouraged by the Minister’s concession to ‘rethink’ and I say I am always encouraged when the Government says it will rethink. Of course – later I thought of a much better retort, as one does.
Drugs and Cameron! My take was that David Cameron should have just admitted whatever he had done at college and left it there. The BBC license fee (not surprisingly) was on the menu and we all paid tribute to the hand that fed us and then went onto the real heart of the matter on civil liberties. I am not going to bang on through the whole program (because you can listen to it on the BBC’s website for the next week – and because readers of this blog will know my views well by now!).

The show always finishes with a quirky question. On the train up and looking at the papers I thought it might be who would the panel choose to play the new James Bond. I carefully hone by answer (settling on Jonathan Ross in the end) but sadly – this isn’t the question that comes up!