One must give Jeremy Corbyn his due. In a week when David Cameron’s resignation honours are being hammered in the press, it takes the touch of an auteur to turn it into a problem for Labour.
Yet that is precisely what the Labour leader has done. In a story nicely teed up by a series of graceless non-denials, he has nominated Shami Chakrabarti, the human rights barrister who was until March the long-serving director of Liberty, for a peerage.
There are several reasons that this decision has angered people, the first obviously being that it takes some of the heat off the Tories at a time when the Opposition are already applying precious little heat as it is.
Second, it represents a breach of one of Corbyn’s campaign promises: he said during last year’s leadership contest that: “Labour will certainly not nominate new peers for the Lords, which risks undermining its legitimacy”.
Ms Chakrabarti was the Labour leader’s only nomination, but that only adds weight to the more serious problems: that the nomination looks a lot like corruption and has completely undermined Labour’s recent anti-Semitism inquiry – which was chaired by one Shami Chakrabarti.
Jewish organisations have reacted furiously to the appointment: the Times quotes the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbi, and a Jewish party donor condemning the decision, as well as John Mann, the Labour MP who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism.
Mann was not afraid to highlight the corruption angle either. The former said: “It’s cash for a report. She’s sold herself cheaply to get into the Lords.”
Meanwhile Michael Foster, the aforementioned donor, went further:
“Like it or not, a peerage comes with a guaranteed stipend and if the nomination committee lets this through then Jeremy Corbyn will have bought his report on antisemitism and Shami will have thrown away her spectacular career for fools’ gold. The Jewish community either way has been shamelessly betrayed by this pair’s faustian pact.”
Even by the low standards the Labour leader has set since being elected, the political ineptitude – to say nothing of the ethical shortcomings – on display here is immense.
Labour is dogged by allegations of anti-Semitic abuse, stemming largely from people who are Corbyn’s supporters. There is wide concern that he refuses to take this seriously – indeed, he set a previous low when he allowed a Jewish MP to be reduced to tears by abuse at the launch of his anti-Semitism report (during which he also appeared to compare Israel to Islamic State).
Now he has completely shredded its credibility by making a single exception to his no-peerages rule for the benefit of its chair, just over a month after it was published.
It’s actually more astonishing that Chakrabarti actually went along with such a ham-fisted scheme. Corbyn at least has the excuse of having been thrust unexpectedly into the limelight, whereas she has been a prominent political campaigner for years.
All in all then, not a bad week for Number Ten: Cameron is giving May plenty of cover for a sharper break with his regime, and Corbyn is doing his best to minimise any residual damage the Tory Party might suffer during the row.