Lord Falconer, Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Justice Secretary, usually keeps a low profile. That did not seem to hold true, however, when news broke on March 3rd that the man who championed the Human Rights Act during Tony Blair’s tenure received a stunning blow from the High Court in a corruption/terrorism case pitting the Republic of Djibouti (for whom Lord Falconer is serving as lead counsel) against London-based businessman Abdourahman Boreh. The African state has accused Boreh of terrorism and seized his assets, but the High Court has now categorically dismissed those charges – and even forced Lord Falconer to issue a grovelling apology after it found that the Court had been misled by Djibouti’s team.
Djibouti is a small East African country with a long list of human rights abuses committed under the three-term presidency of Ismail Omar Guelleh, whose reign has been littered with allegations of crimes against humanity. Djibouti’s authoritarian government was allegedly paying the self-described human rights champion £2 million per year – a sum high enough to apparently make Lord Falconer forget about the praise he had heaped on the Human Rights Act and its mandate to protect “the powerless – victims of crime, people in care and, yes, sometimes also the unpopular – against the might of the strong and the dictates of the State.”
Lord Falconer seems to embody everything that Jeremy Corbyn is not, and yet the Baron of Thoroton sits proudly on the front bench. Indeed, some of Corbyn’s choices when he announced the new Shadow Cabinet raised eyebrows across Britain’s political landscape. Whether it is an attempt to be seen as representing a wider cross section of the Labor Party’s following or simply momentary befuddlement, the inclusion of such figures as Lord Falconer seemed entirely at odds with the Shadow Prime Minister’s leanings and beliefs.
A former darling of the Blair Cabinet, Falconer was at the forefront of the wave of change that swept New Labour to power back in 1996. Blair was always keen to reward friends and supporters; Falconer, his former flatmate, was no exception. Only months after winning the election, Blair made Falconer a life peer, after which he immediately joined the government as Solicitor General. The favours did not stop there, and in a display that earned him the moniker ‘Tony’s crony” from the BBC, Falconer racked up some of the most prestigious titles in the land: Baron, Minister of State, Lord Chancellor, and so on. His dizzying ascent up the political ladder only ended when Blair’s archenemy in waiting, Gordon Brown, took the reins of power and doggedly kicked out Blair’s cronies—Falconer included.
If this extraordinary display of social climbing was not enough to lead the Shadow PM away from including Falconer in the Shadow Cabinet, his attitude to Blair’s post-premiership should have been. In fact, no sooner had Blair turned his back than Falconer began to plant daggers in it, using Blair’s mis-handling of the Iraq affair to ingratiate himself with the new players on the Labour block. Corbyn was not even his first choice – Falconer was first an ardent backer of Andy Burnham. Loyalty is not, it seems, a quality that Lord Falconer aspires to.
Curiously, Falconer’s ideology has little in common with Corbyn’s line. On the nationalisation of banks and utilities, for instance, Falconer is diametrically opposed (and quite vocally so). That would not be particularly noteworthy in and of itself, but Falconer is also opposed to any government interference in the affairs of the central bank as well as the proposed scrapping of the academies programme. He is also in favour of the Conservative government’s welfare cap. Perhaps most notable, however, is hisopposition to the abolition of Trident – a Corbyn policy that is practically the hallmark of his leadership. Falconer, it seems, essentially stands against Corbyn’s entire platform.
How, then, can Falconer’s presence in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet be explained? There was a feeling when Falconer was first appointed that he could provide something of a moderating element to Corbyn’s radicalism – a conciliatory approach that might bring a few more middle-of-the-road voters back into Labour’s fold, much like the role Hilary Benn has performed. With the Labour party often characterised as being in disarray, a former Blair favourite could have acted as a catalyst to re-centre the party’s political focus. Instead, Falconer has one-upped his consistent displays of hypocrisy in “defending” human rights and his outright opposition to nearly every single principle that Corbyn has based his leadership upon by publicly dismissing the Labour leader’s chances of winning an election.
Whatever Corbyn’s gamble was, it is now clear that the Baron’s presence in the Shadow Cabinet only gives ammunition to those who doubt the Labour leader’s capacity to lead and to surround himself with competent politicians. With friends like Falconer, who needs enemies?