Forgeries, freeconomics and Freddie Krueger

Britain's government wants fans involved in the arts, while Israel's says "sorry" to dead pop stars.

Happy Hippy Times

The book is dead, long live the e-book: Amazon’s Kindle has been launched – and immediately sold out. It seems likely that the literature industry will be transformed by this, and publishers and writers might want to keep an eye on the music industry, where technology has also worked some startling changes. Excitement about Qtrax, the free (and legal) online music station, proved anti-climatic as the website was suspended just before its launch (putting HMRC’s woefully unsteady tax returns website in good company); leading record labels denied having licence agreements with Qtrax. The music moguls seem united in their disapproval of ”freeconomics”: in a speech entitled Who Is Making All The Money And Why Aren’t They Sharing It?, U2 manager Paul McGuinness laments the role of technology in the entertainment industry, blaming Silicon Valley’s ”hippy values”.

Happy hippies or not, in these troubled times of global credit instability it may be a little comforting to know that sometimes the people making all the money are not spending it either. Family forgers George and Olive Greenhalgh (84 and 83 respectively), and son Shaun (47), were found guilty of creative impressive forgeries of sculptures, paintings, and historic artefacts from their back garden, and selling them to collectors and museums. The family is reported to have made around £1m from their forgeries (over 17 years) and had more works that could have sold for a further £10m – but continued to live in their council flat. In defence of Mr Greenhalgh Junior, his barrister said that Mr Greenhalgh "had only one outlook, and that was his garden shed".

Forces of Darkness

From the back garden to the world stage: 43 years after being banned from Israel as morally hazardous, the Beatles have been apologized to, and invited to perform. Which is nice. But perhaps too late for some.

Closer to home, the new Bond film has been announced, the directors once again engaging with issues of contemporary international problems. Quantum of Solace, aka “Bond 22”, features a villain played by Oscar-feted Mathieu Amalric: when asked who had inspired his character, Amalric replied ”Tony Blair and Nicholas Sarkozy” . Coming at a time when Sarkozy has proposed Blair for “President of Europe”, perhaps we should be taking note.

Following the tremendous and heartening show of solidarity in the arts world reported here, the Arts Council cuts are now off. Meanwhile new Culture Secretary Andy Burnham’s proposals that fans get involved in the boards of arts organisations are set to revolutionise the relationship between audiences, critics, funders, and fans. Watch this space.

Great men of history

After the widespread relief about the Royal Academy’s From Russia exhibition going ahead, it is sad news, then, that the man credited with bringing it to Britain, the Royal Academy’s Norman Rosenthal, is stepping down as Secretary. Among his other successes were Aztecs, Turks, and Unknown Monet, and he is also the man who famously shed blood for an artwork at the ICA, spat at a critic, and took part in Alternative Miss World dressed as a newt. He will be a hard act to follow.

Another surprise departure this week is Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo . Apparently the Rocky and Rambo franchises, at a total of 10 films between them, have lost their lustre for Stallone who would prefer instead to get involved in “heart-warming dramas and off-beat comedies”. Apprehensions that Hollywood studios will now have to look for something original can be swiftly suppressed: Freddie Krueger is set to return , subject to the availability of screenwriters. With casualties like these, long may the strike moulder.

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Shami Chakrabarti’s fall from grace: how a liberal hero lost her reputation

Once, it was trendy to say you liked the former director of Liberty. No longer.

It might be hard to remember now, but there was a time when it was trendy to like Shami Chakrabarti. In the mid-2000s, amid the Iraq War backlash and the furore over identity cards, speaking well of the barrister and head of the human rights campaign group Liberty was a handy way of displaying liberal credentials. She was everywhere: Question Time, Desert Island Discs, Have I Got News For You. A young indie band from Worcester called the Dastards was so keen on her that it even wrote a song about her. It included the lyric: “I turn on my TV/The only one I want to see/Is Shami Chakrabarti.”

The daughter of Bengali immigrants, Chakrabarti was born and brought up in the outer-London borough of Harrow, where she attended a comprehensive school before studying law at the London School of Economics. Her background was a great strength of her campaigning, and during the most authoritarian years of New Labour government she burnished her reputation.

Fast-forward to 13 September 2016, when Chakrabarti made her House of Lords debut as a Labour peer. Baroness Chakrabarti of Kennington wore a sombre expression and a rope of pearls looped round her throat beneath her ermine robe. It was hard to recognise the civil liberties campaigner who was once called “an anarchist in a barrister’s wig” by Loaded magazine.

Yet Chakrabarti has also been cast in another role that is far less desirable than a seat in the Lords: that of a hypocrite. On 29 April this year, Jeremy Corbyn announced that Chakrabarti would chair an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. The inquiry was prompted by the suspensions of Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West, and Ken Livingstone, for making offensive remarks that were condemned as anti-Semitic. On 16 May Chakrabarti announced that she was joining Labour to gain members’ “trust and confidence”. She said that she would still run the inquiry “without fear or favour”.

The Chakrabarti inquiry delivered its findings on 30 June at a press conference in Westminster. The atmosphere was febrile – there were verbal clashes between the activists and journalists present, and the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was reduced to tears. The report stated that Labour “is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism” but that there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”. It listed examples of “hateful language” and called on party members to “resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons”. Many Labour supporters were surprised that the report’s 20 recommendations did not include lifetime bans for members found to have shown anti-Semitic behaviour.

Then, on 4 August, it was revealed that Chakrabarti was the sole Labour appointment to the House of Lords in David Cameron’s resignation honours. Both Chakrabarti and Corbyn have denied that the peerage was discussed during the anti-Semitism inquiry. But critics suggested that her acceptance undermined the report and its independence.

In particular, it attracted criticism from members of the UK’s Jewish community. Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “This ‘whitewash for peerages’ is a scandal that surely raises serious questions about the integrity of Ms Chakrabarti, her inquiry and the Labour leadership.” A home affairs select committee report into anti-Semitism in the UK has since found that there were grave failings in the report for Labour.

Two further incidents contributed to the decline in Chakrabarti’s reputation: her arrival on Corbyn’s front bench as shadow attorney general and the revelation that her son attends the selective Dulwich College, which costs almost £19,000 a year in fees for day pupils (£39,000 for full boarders). She said that she “absolutely” supports Labour’s opposition to grammar schools but defended her choice to pay for selective education.

Chakrabarti told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “I live in a nice big house and eat nice food, and my neighbours are homeless and go to food banks. Does that make me a hypocrite, or does it make me someone who is trying to do best, not just for my own family, but for other people’s families, too?”

This was the end for many of those who had respected Chakrabarti – the whisper of hypocrisy became a roar. As the Times columnist Carol Midgley wrote: “You can’t with a straight face champion equality while choosing privilege for yourself.”

Hypocrisy is a charge that has dogged the left for decades (both Diane Abbott and Harriet Harman have fallen foul of the selective school problem). The trouble with having principles, it is said, is that you have to live up to them. Unlike the right, the left prizes purity in its politicians, as Jeremy Corbyn’s squeaky-clean political image shows. Shami Chakrabarti started the year with a campaigning reputation to rival that of the Labour leader, but her poor decisions have all but destroyed her. It’s difficult to recall a time when a liberal icon has fallen so far, so fast. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood