Joannah Lumley on Human Rights Campaigning

After my panel discussion at the Liberty Conference, I stayed around to hear Joannah Lumley interviewed by Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.

Lumley was engaging and hilarious when recounting her famous lobbying of Phil Woolas on the subject of immigration rights for Gurkhas in 2009. She is a purveyor of a kind of Occam’s Razor form of political campaigning, scything through civil service obfuscation and demanding politicians stop delaying, and act. She says this is the reason why she would never go into politics herself – idealistic people with fire and passion are swallowed up, and begin to speak like apparatchiks.

During the Q&A, I was able to make the point that ‘Joannah Lumley’ has become a byword (‘that’s two words’, says Shami) for a celebrity campaigner. I noted that every human rights group now seeks a similar ‘Lumley’ stand-in for their cause. What does this requirement say about British politics?

Lumley made two points. The first was to acknowledge that the media like to take photographs of women ‘with yellow hair’ but she also pointed out that the Gurkha campaign was ripe for a win. Other campaigns that she works on, such as for Tibet, seem to have much less momentum. So the Gurkha campaign was not won solely because of her involvement, rather that others had worked hard to stack up the arguments in favour of the Gurkhas. She was therefore able to put a cast iron case to the media and politicians, who had no choice but to agree with the aims of the campaign.

This discussion yielded some other interesting insights, especially on young people getting involved in activism. Relevant Tweets are pasted below.

And, ahead of a long battle to save the Human Rights Act, this:

I would love to see Joannah Lumley confront some politicians, asking them the simple question: Which right protected by the Human Rights Act do believe should be abolished?

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