Should Shami Chakrabarti resign?
Feb 13, 2009
Bishop Hill in Civil liberties

As I pointed out in my posting the other day, Shami Chakrabarti and David Davis have both been consipicuous by their absence from the debate over whether Geert Wilders should have been allowed into the country.

Legally, there now seems to be little doubt that it was unlawful to exclude Wilders, the showing of his film having gone off with barely a murmur of dissent in his absence, and with Wilders having actually visited Britain a matter of weeks ago without any discernable trouble. The Home Secretary is going to be extremely hard pushed to justify his exclusion on any legal basis.

So in legal terms, he should have been here, and those who support the concept of the rule of law should be incandescent over the Home Secretary's behaviour. Likewise, anyone with the remotest interest in civil liberties should be fuming too. So where are our champions of civil liberties? Why have they not been shouting from the pages of every newspaper in the land? Davis, nothing. Chakrabarti, nothing. The Liberal Democrats? Don't make me laugh.

David Davis is a politician and has presumably made a political calculation that he has little to gain from speaking out in favour of Wilders' coming to the UK, and a great deal to lose in terms of his future career (we assume that he will eventually seek high office again). We expect little else from politicians and can write off the LibDems on the same grounds.

Chakrabarti has no such excuse. She is the head of Liberty, a body that exists solely to speak out in favour of civil liberties. She has failed miserably to do so. Her silence over Wilders is not unprecedented either. She has made it abundantly clear that she doesn't feel that freedom of speech extends to nasty people; her words on Question Time last week can have left nobody in any doubt about that. She also has previous form on the "disappearing act" she has performed in the last few days, notably when Liberty maintained a determined radio silence over the Sikh play Bezhti.

Chakrabarti has demonstrated over the years that she will not stand up for those whose views she deems unacceptable. She will not defend unpleasant views. She will not speak out for unpleasant people. She hates racists so much that she will allow fundamental British freedoms to be trampled underfoot in order allow these views she detests so much to be crushed, regardless of the importance of the freedoms that are lost with them, and regardless of the duties entailed in her position.

What is the point of the woman? It is possible to find people with views like that in any pub, Conservative Association or working men's club in the country. People who think civil liberties are a secondary consideration are two-a-penny in the pages of the Guardian or the Telegraph. Why do we need Liberty if not to make the difficult case of basic freedoms for everyone?

Chakrabarti and Liberty are not champions of civil liberties. In many ways they are a direct threat to the English model of individuals untrammelled in what they can say and think. She should stand down and make way for somebody who wants civil liberties for everyone, not just the favoured few.

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