Helena Kennedy, for those living BC, goes by several titles, including Baroness Helena Kennedy, Helena Kennedy QC and Woman of the Year President. But she signs her emails HK.
The Baroness is a Labour peer, author of several books including ‘Eve Was Framed’, and one of the fiercest criminal lawyers in the country, championing civil liberties and campaigning for human rights, women’s rights and social justice. HK is a force of nature and your worst nightmare in the courtroom, but when i-D online met her in the Green Room at Hay Festival, she was absolutely charming and more than willing, 15 minutes before going on stage to chair a discussion about the Leveson Inquiry, to share her time and thoughts with us.
The talk that followed 15 minutes later was one of the most exciting debates at Hay 2012 so far, which is no small feat considering the festival attracts the most famous and respected political and literary heads in Great Britain. In conversation with Labour MP and author of ‘M for Murdoch’, Tom Watson, who has spent the last few years uncovering details of the hacking scandal, and Independent journalist Martin Hickman, Helena talked through the Inquiry. The panel discussed its “cock up or conspiracy” roots, asked whether Tony Blair was scrutinised enough and debated exactly what was in those black bags. They spoke of “the corrupted News of the World journalists”, asked whether the press have been properly policed and if Cameron’s tenure will be affected as a result. Though both Watson and Hickman gave away details, they couldn’t completely relax with their comments because of the high legal risks associated. And that was the whole buzz, the fact that this talk was relevant to today’s papers, and tomorrow’s, and next month’s – the fact that every word they said had the potential to affect the entire government, but only a couple of thousand of people were there to hear, and it was within the leisurely perimeters of a literary festival in the rolling hills of Wales, not in a courtroom, not scribed word for word.
Managing the conversation better and with more poise and personality than any of the other chairs this weekend, Helena opened up the floor to audience questions, putting on a pair of spectacularly glamorous 60s spectacles, the exact colour match of her outfit, all the better to see you with. One man stood up and congratulated Watson on his stance, and everybody clapped. Helena however, heard a boo, and forced the matter, “Would the booer please stand up, we’ll come to you next”. The Booer then accused Watson of making himself the centre of attention, to which the MP replied, “If that’s your opinion, I’m sorry to hear you paid £7 to come and hear me speak”. And it went on, and became hotter and left everyone with the feeling that politics is for the people, who can spark debate as engaging as in the Commons.
Here’s what the proven brilliant Helena Kennedy said to i-D online in the peace and quiet before it all started…
Tell us about your talk with Tom Watson tonight… I’m about to do a session about the Murdoch issue and that whole business of power, of where is power going? And that’s one of the major crisis in our world, that increasingly power is not vested in politicians or governments, but actually in some sort of supranational, invisible cohort, who are usually those who run the corporate, financial world and so on. So there is unaccountable power out there and that makes it hard for politicians to ever please us because they’re bound to disappoint. […] Tomorrow I’m doing a session on Sharia Law, a British barrister has written a book about Sharia Law, he is the child of a Pakistani father and German mother and has been brought up in a secular way but he knows and understands where Sharia fits into the scheme of things for Muslims and he’s written a very interesting book about it. I want to prod it and probe it so that an audience that perhaps knows very little about Sharia Law might understand it better, but also be made aware of some of the negative elements. What you always have to ask about any law nowadays is, does it conform to human rights standards? Once you have laws that say that the value of women’s testimony is half that of a man, I’m afraid your laws are going to have to be reworked.
Which literary female figures do you admire the most? One of my favourites at Hay this year is Elif Shafak, a Turkish writer. I first came across her because she did a TED lecture. My husband was doing a TED lecture on medicine and when I went to watch him, this wonderful woman did the one immediately before. So I went in search of her books. She’s got a new novel out called ‘Honour’, I’m halfway through it and it is absolutely wonderful. Joan Bakewell’s new novel is wonderful too. We’re being hit by the many, many writers from different parts of the world, who open doors for us and take us into realms that we don’t know much about, but at the same time a common humanity is on every page, and that’s what I love about books.
What are your thoughts on these postcards from the bookshop…
“I’ll be a post-feminist in post-patriarchy…” I like that. We’ve got a long way to go because patriarchy rules widely and in large tracts of the world still as we know and certainly all over religion, the stamp of patriarchy is definitely not in any post-state. Post-feminism was a myth that was put out by the patriarchs and some women bought into it.
“Don’t vote, it only encourages them…” It’s that old thing that we vote for change but we always get the government. And one of the reasons I think that we get less and less turn out at elections is that people do feel that politicians in the end seem very same-y in our contemporary world, they don’t seem to have strong conviction and strong belief systems and they don’t seem to be able to deliver on the promises that they’ve made.
“Women account for two thirds of the world’s poor, earn only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property…” Absolutely and we keep forgetting that women are the poorest, women and children. Women still to this day, are the ones who don’t get an education. When you look at the illiteracy in the world, it’s women who haven’t had the chance at education and we know that education is the thing that changes lives. When we think we’ve moved into this great world of equality, let me say, put your glasses on and go out looking.
Buy her books.
Text: Sarah Raphael