ALASTAIR CAMPBELL on being expelled from the Labour Party by an email without a name, and how he and Tony Blair nearly kicked out Jeremy Corbyn.
It was then-chief whip Hilary Armstrong who suggested to Tony Blair that, given the many hundreds of times Jeremy Corbyn had voted against Labour policy, it might be time to consider expulsion.
Tony and I discussed it and, despite the control freak reputation we enjoyed, agreed it was not the right thing to do. Dissent can be irritating, for sure, and persistent rebellion a pain in the arse, but there is always a place for it in democratic politics.
Last Thursday, for the first time in my life, I voted for a party other than the Labour Party. I did not say I was planning to do so. I certainly did not campaign for another party, nor advocate that anyone else vote for one.
But, having been booked to do live radio and television coverage on Sunday as the results came in, I felt it would be a total cop-out to avoid the direct question “how did you vote?” Like the Jeremy Corbyn of old, before he became all too fond of the triangulation he used to despise, I believe in saying what you think. I was not prepared to weasel my way out of it by saying “how I voted is between me and the ballot box”, so when I was asked the direct question, I answered it.
At LBC, where I first did so shortly after 10pm, I bumped into Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, who was beaming. But before she could speak, let alone say “welcome to our party” – the words I feared were forming in her head – I said: “I am not a Liberal Democrat. I voted for you because I’m Labour.”
She knew what I was getting at. In common with every Lib Dem canvasser, campaigner and candidate, she had been hearing the same story as I had all over the country from Labour supporters and members who simply could not support the party as it continued with its incoherent, two-faced fantasy Brexit policy.
We had all been once bitten twice shy on having voted Labour in the 2017 election to be told ever-after by Corbyn, Barry Gardiner, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Richard Burgon, Theresa May and her cabinet, Nigel Farage and his fellow Brextremists that we were among the 80% who had voted for Brexit.
We had all been ground down by the nonsense we had to hear day after day from Labour frontbenchers on the media about a “jobs-first Brexit”, a “better Brexit”, a “fairer Brexit” when we all know no such thing exists. We had all grown tired of screaming at the radio and the TV every time they blathered about this wretched table where a People’s Vote was apparently placed, but in a static, ‘we are not really serious about this’ kind of way. We had also been shocked at the Labour Party’s inability even to mount a proper campaign, so that candidates felt sabotaged, not supported as Labour and Tory parties allowed a free run for Nigel Farage’s Brexiteers.
Even with all that, when the moment came, I didn’t like it. As my partner Fiona will testify, the pencil hovered for ages before I finally put my cross against the Lib Dems.
Ever since 1997, when I spent election day in Sedgefield, preparing for the kind of landslide victory Corbynite triangulators dare not even dream about, I have had a postal vote. For the first time I didn’t post it in advance but waited till polling day, hoping against hope the Labour leadership might give me reasons to vote for my own party.
Fiona has already resigned from the party. At the same kitchen table where now I sat, pencil hovering, Keir Starmer, a friend and our local MP, had assured her the hundreds of outstanding cases of anti-Semitism would be dealt with soon.
She said if they were not dealt with in six months, she was out. Add in Brexit and a lack of credible education policy and there was no stopping her. Six months later, she went.
Ever since she has asked me virtually every day why I stay in a party whose leadership has tolerated and cultivated anti-Semitism, is dishonest about Brexit, confines domestic policy to platitudes and despises those who helped to build what history will see as the most successful and enduring Labour government of all time. She had a point. But in I hung.
When voting tactically as I did, and as half of our street seemed to be, I felt none of the liberation she seems to have felt since leaving the party. And I had no intention of leaving myself. I had been advised that provided I did not openly campaign in support of another party, I might escape expulsion.
There were also precedents, not least the support George Galloway was shown by Jeremy Corbyn after defeating Labour for Respect. There was Andrew Fisher, who urged support for Class War against Labour and now sat alongside Corbyn in a senior position in his office. There was Kate Hoey, who has escaped any censure for her regular campaigning alongside Nigel Farage.
And I also had the thought that with all those anti-Semitic cases to deal with, would the compliance and regulation unit really have time to delve into the can of worms marked ‘party members who voted for pro-Remain parties in the Euros?’ After all, they must know, as I did, that there are people in head office who voted Lib Dem, MPs who voted Change UK, peers who voted Green.
It was clear from the reaction to the news of my expulsion, delivered in an email without the name of a human being anywhere near it, let alone a signature, that I was far from alone in voting non-Labour in the hope that if enough of us did we would get the Labour leadership to see sense, get off the fence and get a credible and coherent approach to the most important issue facing our country.
Indeed, shortly before I received the email, Diane Abbott had become the latest voice, following Starmer, Tom Watson, John McDonnell and Emily Thornberry, to make clear the support for a new and clearer approach to a People’s Vote. Finally, it seemed, the shadow cabinet was going with the interests and views of party members and supporters, not the Seumas Milne/Karie Murphy/Andrew Murray/Len McCluskey Stalinist clique around Corbyn.
There were some suspicions that my expulsion was a clever ploy designed to take away from the investigation – shameful that it has come to this – by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into anti-Semitism. I have my doubts.
I think it is more that the clique is desperate to persuade the dwindling cult that the reason for Labour’s woeful showing in the elections was the Blairite plot (sic) against the beloved leader (sic) and that the People’s Vote campaign is but a front for a new party. It is, I have to tell them, paranoid nonsense but paranoid nonsense tends to be what Stalinist cliques do.
Meanwhile the battle to save the Labour Party goes on, and the battle to get Brexit put back to the people goes on even more urgently. Both can be won.
I intend to be a part of both those fights and I hope to be in and around the Labour Party long after those around Corbyn, who have helped reduce the party to its current sorry state, have returned to the places and parties whence they came.