Joseph Corre, co-founder of the lingerie company Agent Provocateur, turns down an official honour because of the war in Iraq and the government’s attacks on human rights in Britain. In doing so he shames Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, who was only too pleased to accept an award from the Blair regime. Corre at first accepted his MBE – or, to give its full title, Member of the British Empire (!) – before deciding to hand it back. While the honours are ostensibly handed out to mark the Queen’s birthday, they are in fact drawn up by a committee attached to the Cabinet Office and merely sent to Buckingham Palace for signature. In other words, they have the government’s fingerprints all over them. Corre admitted that initially he was flattered "to have my work with Agent Provocateur recognised by the establishment. It even gave me a kick to imagine what some of the bureaucrats and censors I have had to fight up to now must think". Then he added: "However, after some serious reflection I have decided that I cannot accept it. I have been chosen by an organisation headed by a prime minister who I find morally corrupt, who has been involved in organised lying to the point where thousands of people including children have suffered death, detention and torture in Afghanistan and Iraq." Writing in today’s Independent, Corre explains: "People are disillusioned with democracy. They feel helpless and powerless, and the reason has been Mr Blair. There was a huge march against his war. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, and he took no notice. No wonder people feel disenfranchised from the political process, when he will allow nothing to stick. Mr Blair has caused many miserable deaths, and tortures. He has presided over extraordinary rendition, and has been happy to see people imprisoned without trial, on barely a scrap of evidence. In his Britain, habeas corpus is no longer sacrosanct, and at a personal level this means that I simply cannot accept this honour."
Which brings us to Shami Chakrabarti. Just at the time she would have been sent a letter inviting her to become a Commander of the British Empire, the director of the human rights organisation was sitting on a platform in Clapham at the preview of the film Taking Liberties. The film exposes the relentless attack on human rights by the New Labour government since it came to power in 1997. If she knew at the time, Chakrabarti never felt bold enough to share the news with the audience. For her to have turned down the honour and made a statement like Corre’s would have been extremely powerful. Instead, Chakrabarti, claimed she was astonished to get a CBE, saying: "No one was more surprised than me, particularly when it must have been recommended by this government that I have fought so hard." Trying hard to justify accepting the award, Chakrabarti suggested it was an "official royal invitation to do more", knowing full well that the Queen has nothing whatsoever to do with the award. In accepting her CBE, Chakrabarti has lent credibility to the most authoritarian government of modern times. It was left to the founder of a lingerie firm to say it how it is. Perhaps he and Chakrabarti should swap jobs.
Paul Feldman, communications editor