Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

What Shami regards as right isn’t necessarily what is right

<span style="color: #333333;">When you compare Shami Chakrabarti's </span>On Liberty<span style="color: #333333;"> with John Stuart Mill's, Mill leaves Chakrabarti standing</span>

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty and omnipresent media personality, is on the cover of her book. She’s wearing a blindfold bearing the legend ‘On Liberty’, which seems to cast her in the role of Justice — blind, and all that. The title is the same as John Stuart Mill’s famous essay on the subject, which is, I’d say, unwise, as inviting comparisons. I did indeed go out to get JSM’s essay to read alongside Shami, and it wasn’t just the prose that left her standing.

This book is an account of her time at Liberty since she started there, the day before 9/11, with a bit of autobiography thrown in. It’s an uneasy combination because the personal stuff is minimal and chiefly to do with her work (she has a son, which gives her empathy for ‘my fellow mothers’ when she visits a crime-ridden estate) and the story of Liberty is an account of one campaign after another, enlivened by her own views.

I should say that Shami, from this and from the single time I met her, is a nice woman and patently means us all well, though mostly in a cross way. Many of her and Liberty’s causes are good ones; the campaigns against prolonged pre-trial detention and ID cards, for instance, are ones where lots of Spectator readers will probably be on the same side; certainly she’s found herself next to David Davis MP more than once in the trenches, and they made friends.

But she has a remarkable habit of equating her own views with what is right; she is infallibly her own yardstick and moral compass. I recall hearing a radio interview with her in the wake of the Leveson Report on press regulation — she was one of the assessors advising Lord Leveson, though this doesn’t feature here — in which she was cross-questioned about her support for his main recommendations and whether this quite squared with the freedom of the press.

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