Was Labour right to expel Alastair Campbell?
Former spin doctor is ousted for voting Lib Dem in the European elections
Tony Blair’s former director of communications Alastair Campbell has been expelled from the Labour Party after voting for the Liberal Democrats in last week’s European elections.
Campbell, a leading campaigner for a second referendum, said he “always will be Labour” and plans to appeal against the decision.
So what happened and has Labour made the right decision?
Why was Alastair Campbell expelled?
The 62-year-old, who established The New European newspaper after the EU referendum and was among the first supporters of a People’s Vote, admitted voting for the Lib Dems during the BBC election coverage on Sunday night.
“I didn’t vote Labour – for the first time in my life – and it was a very strange feeling,” he said. “I just felt on this issue at this time the Labour Party has let its own supporters down, it’s let its members down and it’s let the country down.”
Today he announced on Twitter that he was “sad and disappointed” to receive an email expelling him from the party.
A Labour spokesman said: “Support for another political party or candidate is incompatible with party membership.”
Nevertheless, Corbyn today conceded that any Brexit deal has to be “put to a public vote” after the party lost ground to the Liberal Democrats and Greens.
Can Campbell appeal?
According to Daily Mirror sources within Labour, Campbell was “auto-excluded” rather than formally expelled, which would require a disciplinary panel. It means he cannot reapply for membership for five years unless party chiefs say otherwise.
There is a 14-day window in which he could provide evidence to disprove the allegations but “because he confessed backing a rival party on national TV, this appears unlikely to succeed”, says the newspaper. He might therefore be forced to seek redress in the High Court in order to challenge the rules.
Was Labour right to expel him?
Several commentators and Campbell himself have highlighted the difference in the party’s treatment of disloyalty versus anti-Semitism claims.
His expulsion emerged just as the UK’s equality watchdog launched a formal investigation into whether Labour has “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised” Jewish people. “Mr Corbyn’s office has been repeatedly criticised for dragging its heels over antisemitism complaints, leaving members facing accusations in place,” says The Independent.
ITV’s Robert Peston said he had “never known anyone as obsessively tribally Labour” as Campbell.
“Expelling him so rapidly for voting Lib Dem, even though he did not promote what he was doing, while taking ages to expel alleged antisemites, sends out the oddest of messages. Parties that are so intolerant of political dissent rarely prosper in our first-past-post system,” he wrote.
MP Jess Phillips also said: “He was expelled quicker than a man who threatened to kill me, quicker than a man in my CLP who denied the Holocaust, both are only still suspended.”
However, The Guardian columnist Owen Jones reiterated that it was an “auto-exclusion” and questioned why the rule should apply to some and not to Campbell. He pointed to an example where 20 members were kicked out in 2005 under Blair for backing someone standing against Labour.
But Campbell said there was “plenty of precedent” for members voting for other parties and causes, adding that “some are now senior party staff”.
Blair also addressed his former spin doctor via Sky News, saying: “I understand why you did what you did. You wouldn’t be the only person I know who had voted Labour all their lives that didn’t vote Labour in this election.”
The Daily Mirror’s associate editor Kevin Maguire added: “Expel every Labour member who voted Lib Dem or Green last week and Labour will shrink from Europe’s largest political party to one of the smallest.”
There is also criticism that Leave supporter Kate Hoey has “kept the Labour whip, despite appearing to campaign for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party”, says The Independent.
Meanwhile, the pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum said it was “the least [Campbell] deserves” for his “‘sexed up’ dossier” that “started the Iraq war and left a million dead”.