ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Why I no longer want to be readmitted to Labour
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
In a frank, honest letter to the Labour leader ALASTAIR CAMPBELL says he no longer wants to be readmitted to the party he's spent his life fighting for, and asks Jeremy Corbyn to seriously consider whether he's really up to the challenges ahead.
Britain is in a moment of peril, the UK facing an existential crisis, a combination of Brexit and Boris Johnson reducing our country to a global laughing stock; and yet between them Brexit and now Johnson as prime minister have delivered what amounts to a right-wing coup - a fundamental change in the direction of the country without real democratic mandate.
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In normal times, with a government having failed so badly for so long to address the challenges of the time, not just Brexit but so much else, the people would look towards the opposition not merely to oppose, but because they see a clear, credible, coherent alternative for government. This simply is not happening. It is incumbent on everyone in the Labour Party - but especially you as leader - to reflect and take responsibility for what now happens.
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I see no sign that you and your office have grasped the seriousness of what is happening, let alone devised or begun to execute a strategy to respond and defeat it. Whatever the denials, Johnson has embarked on a crash and burn strategy deliberately aimed at creating the circumstances for a general election, setting up the EU, parliament, and the civil service, in a grotesque perversion of the truth, as the reasons he has no option but to call one.
We need to be honest about why he favours this path. He has boxed himself into a no deal Brexit by public promises that will not and cannot be met through negotiations with the EU. He rightly fears that if the people were given a straight choice in a referendum - 'no deal v no Brexit' - no Brexit would win, comfortably. But he is confident that in an election choice between him and you, he would win, and so get the mandate for the hardest form of Brexit he would otherwise not legitimately be able to claim. The Tories are deliberately conflating the two issues - Brexit and your leadership - using people's fears about the latter to get electoral backing for the hardest version of the former. In part because you have been so resistant to the democratic argument for a Final Say referendum, which is how an issue as big as this should be resolved, he has been able to get some momentum behind his strategy. It means we could be weeks from an election in which, on any current analysis, you are unlikely to be in a position to win a majority.
The future of the country is a million times more important than my membership of the Labour Party. But the above situation has developed at a time this has been the subject of some public debate, as well as intense personal reflection.
As you may know, representatives of your office recently asked me to a meeting with Karie Murphy, to discuss how we might find a way of me getting back into the party without political embarrassment. Unfortunately, the call came as I was about to leave for Australia, so we agreed to wait until my return.
I appreciated the acceptance that my expulsion for voting Liberal Democrat in the European elections, in an effort to pressure you to a clearer anti-Brexit, pro-second referendum position, was widely seen as being neither sensible nor fair. Your representative also indicated that you had not been informed in advance of my expulsion, that this was a decision of the General Secretary, which I am happy to take at face value.
Having first lodged my own appeal, but then failed to get answers to questions about due process, despite help from my MP, Keir Starmer, John McDonnell and others, I asked lawyers to take over. They prepared a case they were confident of winning in court both on the grounds that the rules on auto-exclusion had been misapplied, and also that I had been the victim of discrimination, as I was the only person expelled for doing something to which others had admitted, including Cherie Blair and Charles Clarke, and many members who contacted me and the party to confirm they did as I did. None has been auto-excluded or expelled. Having spent several weeks trying without success to have explained to me the process under which I was expelled, and the process of review that had been announced into my case, I finally informed the party I felt I had no option but to start proceedings. I suspect this is what led to the recent phone call asking me to meet Ms Murphy.
As before, I was clear that I did not particularly want to end up in court against a party I have supported, and for many years worked for, all my life, but equally clear that if it was the only option left open to me, I would pursue it.
I was told that my case had been discussed with Ms Murphy and other senior members of your team and that they saw two ways it might be addressed - 1. By a suspension of my auto-exclusion under cover of the broader possible review of the whole AE system in relation to anti-semitism and other offences. 2. That I make some kind of public commitment to voting Labour at the next election, and to 'abiding by the party rules' (rules which, incidentally, I do not believe I have ever broken.)
On the first, I was not asking for suspension of my exclusion, but reversal. And I do not wish my case to be part of the debate about anti-semitism, which has done so much to damage the party and make decent people fear and reject its extremist elements. On the second, whilst with the one exception which led to my expulsion, I have voted Labour in every election in my life, and would prefer to do so for the rest of my days, I did not feel comfortable about making a blanket commitment when politics is in such flux, and my concern about your stance on Brexit still acute. Nor was I prepared to accept or even indicate that I had been wrong in making a protest vote in the way I did. Also, in the event of an early election, there will be the sort of sophisticated tactical voting we have rarely seen before, and I do not intend to rule out the possibility of recommending tactical voting, and in some places co-operation between parties, as the best means of stopping Johnson's hard Brexit plans.
With the distance provided by being away from the UK, with Johnson unspeakably now prime minister and changing the dynamic of the political debate, I have reflected deeply on all of the above. And, with some sadness but absolute certainty, I have reached the conclusion that I no longer wish to stay in the party, even if I should be successful in my appeal or legal challenge.
The culture you have helped to create has made the party one which I feel no longer truly represents my values, or the hopes I have for Britain. Secondly, as someone who has been obsessed all my life with Labour winning, because otherwise we risk the continuing, debilitating Conservative domination of our politics, I see no strategy in place or even in development that remotely meets the electoral or policy challenges ahead. On the contrary, in so far as I ascertain a strategy at all, it is one that looks more designed to lose.
My partner Fiona Millar resigned from the party a year ago, citing three main reasons - the failure to tackle anti-semitism; failure to lead on Brexit; and a lack of genuine forward-looking radicalism in policy development. I kept hoping against hope things might change. In all three areas, insufficient progress has been made to persuade me you understand what is required or, even if you did, that you have any intention of making the decisions needed to deliver it.
Meanwhile, I fear the country may already have decided that it does not intend to make you prime minister. The importance of being clear and honest about that has been underlined to me talking to senior politicians in Australia, where the Labor Party has recently lost an election it was almost universally expected to win against a failing, right-wing government. The data was there for all to see - Bill Shorten was not popular enough to win, the country had made up its mind. But the party failed to confront that truth, perhaps because Labor were polling well ahead of the government. Labour in the UK has no such excuse for denial. Both party standing and yours are nowhere near where they need to be, nor anywhere near where Bill Shorten's and Labor's were.
I do not blame you for Brexit, and the mess the UK is in. David Cameron and Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, and the UK media, they are all ahead of you in the queue on that one. Those who advocated Brexit are those most responsible for the almighty mess it is creating. But I do believe your half-hearted approach to the referendum campaign three years ago had a role in Leave winning. Your failure to provide consistent leadership on the issue since then has been a huge disappointment. Your failure to challenge the lies, crimes and misdemeanours of the Leave campaign; your pursuit of Labour versions of unicorns, such as a 'jobs first Brexit,'; your failure to master the detail sufficient to provide confidence to the public, or indeed to Europe, that you would be able to negotiate a better deal; your refusal, despite having become leader in large part by promising to listen to members, to do so on Brexit; your failure to mount the democratic case for the public having the right to say, given all we now know, whether they wish to proceed - these have all played into the hands of our opponents.
It is true that the party has shifted closer to a Final Say referendum with Remain on the ballot paper. It is also clear, however, that you have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to that position, and equally clear that you continue to try to face both ways on this. This is not leadership, but its abdication. Then to hear from people in your team that your spokesman believes Johnson getting a deal over the line will be 'good for us' defies belief as to what kind of thinking, if any, is going on. It is not as if we did not know Johnson was heading to Number 10. It is hard to ascertain that any strategy at all had been developed in advance to deal with his arrival. More mixed signals on Brexit, cries of austerity, calls for an election, orchestrated attacks on Jo Swinson and new ethnic minority members of the cabinet, none of this constitutes a plan. Indeed the personal attacks are almost certainly counter-productive; while the focus on an election, rather than the referendum that should be taking place to resolve Brexit, might go down in the 'careful what you wish for' category.
I do not know at this stage how I will vote at the next election, and I have made this decision after discussing it with nobody apart from family and a small number of close personal friends. It is not part of some bigger plan, but a deeply personal decision. What I do know is that this is indeed a moment of real peril, with a dangerous, ill-qualified, ill-intentioned new prime minister using the votes of the people in a referendum three years ago to drive through a 'more Thatcherite than Thatcher' agenda for which he has no mandate. I know too, that less affluent people in deprived areas whose support he secured with one set of lies to win for Leave, will be hardest hit by the policies he will now implement, having won the highest office in the land with a different set of lies to win over Tory members. I know that much of the support we are losing in poorer areas has less to do with Brexit than with people's views of you and the direction in which you have taken the party, and their rejection of sectarian, hard left, out of date politics. Without major change, we risk letting down the people who most need a Labour government.
In all honesty and humility, I do not claim to have all the answers, in political, strategic or policy terms, about how to take on and defeat the virus of populism that is spreading around the world, most dangerously represented by Trump in America, but also Orban, Salvini, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Putin and Erdogan, and now in Britain by the man Trump sees as his British creation. But I know that halting the damage that will be done by Brexit, and then developing a modern agenda to focus on the real challenges facing the country, is a big part of it. You should surely be leading on that; three years of fence-sitting and process-driven obfuscation do not give me confidence that you will. Nor does the party's approach in recent days. To have any chance of stopping Johnson and stopping a hard Brexit, you need to step up now, and signal leadership of the anti-Brexit, anti-populist cause, though it may be that loss of trust in your approach to Brexit means it is too late to win back many former supporters.
I would love to be proved wrong, as indeed I was in 2017, when you campaigned well and secured a far greater share of the vote than expected, and helped prevent the landslide Mrs May thought was hers for the taking. But that was against the worst Tory campaign any of us can remember, in which you benefited from tactical voting of anti-Brexit forces, and many of your own candidates openly campaigned for support locally while telling voters they need not worry about Labour winning nationally. We are in very different circumstances now.
I would love above all if you decided to show in the fight against populism and hard Brexit the kind of energy and passion you showed in that campaign. If you did, I would happily support you. Instead, I see a mix of irritation, complacency and confusion on Brexit, and a populism of the left as a response to the populism of the right.
You have twice been democratically elected as leader and if there was another leadership election now, you would likely win again. But has the time not come for you to ask yourself, honestly, whether you have the capacity, the plan and the reach into the British public, to rise to the new challenge, and to win in the country? If you have doubt, then there is no doubt - you should make way for someone who can provide the leadership, the strategy, and the energy required.
Of course, every member has to make up his or her own mind about what to do, and I know many others who have left or are doing so. I recognise too how hard it is for MPs in particular, especially those who broadly agree with my analysis but have to defend you to their constituents given a vote for them means a vote for you to be PM. Nor does the threat of deselection help.
I have in the past, in various troubled eras for our party, always argued that it is better to stay and fight from the inside. My fear right now is that without real change, there will be nothing left to fight for, and that your place in history will be as the leader who destroyed Labour as a serious political force capable of winning power and making the kind of radical change made by all Labour governments, but especially that of Clement Attlee and the ones led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. That era, 1997-2010, was the only time Labour has won three successive terms, delivering huge change for the better, yet you and your closest supporters have done so much to undermine both the record and the legacy. This too has been a self-inflicted strategic failure born of your sectarian view of politics and the party of which you are privileged to be leader. It is now a matter of fact that Eton has produced three times more prime ministers than the Labour Party, underlining how hard it is for the left to win power in this country. Trashing the few good Labour governments we have had, and the leaders and strategies that delivered them, plays a part in helping the right to keep winning, even when as awful as its current manifestation.
Doubtless the sock puppets and outriders will be unleashed on the back of this, and the cult of personality and the culture of denial will thus be cemented. They are a big part of your problem. Politics in the end is not about those who practise it and obsess about it most. It is about those who don't, those who get on with their lives and look to political leaders to get on with their jobs, and do them in the national interest. Millions of those people are looking on in despair at the state of our politics, the choice we face, and the quality of leadership we now have. With a government this bad, with a prime minister symbolic of the post-truth, post-shame Trumpian era, appointing ministers whose misdemeanours mean that in any other walk of life they would never gain serious employment again, such as Priti Patel, Esther McVey and Gavin Williamson, pursuing a ruinous form of Brexit that will so damage our economy, society and standing in the world, Labour should be poised to win power. If the public could see that clear, credible and coherent alternative across the despatch box, ably led, we would be. That the country does not see it is, I am afraid, very substantially down to you, the people you have allowed to take control of the party, and the policies you and they pursue. It is therefore time to stop pretending, to myself or anyone else, that things are likely to change on your watch.
I hope that one day I will rejoin a party that genuinely appeals to the many not the few, that can win again the kind of majority needed to deliver lasting change, and so improve the life chances of those who will be damaged by Brexit, and left behind by Johnson. In the meantime, please, for the sake of the party and especially for the sake of the country, think beyond the messenger, and think seriously about the message.
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