Ten reasons why Charles Kennedy should not join Labour

From Iraq to class warfare: why Kennedy must stay loyal to the Liberal Democrats.

Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader, has denied the accusation that he has discussed joining the Labour Party. Yet the story has the ring of truth about it; certainly, many disgruntled Lib Dems would sympathise if he has.

And as the news originated in a post by my old friend Mark Seddon, the former editor of Tribune and one-time member of Labour's National Executive Committee, I'm inclined to believe that there's something in it.

But here is why Charles Kennedy should not split the Lib Dems and defect to the Labour Party.

  1. Iraq. The obvious one -- Kennedy was the only party leader to oppose the illegal war in Iraq while, of Labour's leadership contenders, David Miliband and Andy Burnham voted for it, Ed Balls wasn't an MP but says he would have voted for it (though he admits it would have been wrong to do so!) and Ed Miliband says he was against it -- but nobody noticed because he was out of the country at the time. The sole contender to have voted against the Iraq war, Diane Abbott, is the one candidate we know definitely won't win. That's the party Kennedy would be joining.
  2. Tuition fees. In 2001, Kennedy called the introduction of university tuition fees "one of the most pernicious political acts that has taken place. It means that people from lower-income backgrounds are discriminated against." He was right. Who introduced them? And who later added on top-up fees, thereby breaking a manifesto promise? Labour governments.
  3. Civil liberties. Again, as party leader, Kennedy was on the side of the angels, especially against one of the most authoritarian home secretaries in living memory -- David Blunkett, whom he accused of using the threat of terrorism to force through "the abandonment of some of the liberties that generations of Britons have relied upon. Hard-won rights, once lost, may never be regained." Which party did Blunkett belong to? Labour.
  4. Lib Dem votes don't belong to Labour . . . and Kennedy should not encourage the belief that they do. The cries of "betrayal" after this year's general election showed very clearly that many Labour politicians believe that votes for the Liberal Democrats are in some sense "mislaid", and that they really belong to them. They don't. There was no betrayal because there was no promise -- the Lib Dems had the right to form a coalition with whichever party they wanted. In any case, why should Lib Dems turn to Labour, after the way Tony Blair led Paddy Ashdown and Roy Jenkins down the garden path? Kennedy above all knows that. He was the leader who abandoned Ashdown's policy of cosying up to a party that, not so secretly, has always despised Liberals.
  5. He should fight his corner within the Lib Dems. Kennedy is not alone in worrying about the right-wing tendencies of the Orange Bookers at the top of the party, the former Treasury chief secretary David Laws in particular. But their position will only be strengthened if the left of the party defects.
  6. Kennedy is a Liberal, not a Social Democrat. Yes, I know he was a member of the Social Democratic Party -- but both he and his mentor, Roy Jenkins, could happily have found a home in the old Liberal Party. After the merger between the two parties as the Alliance in 1988, neither opted for the continuing Owenite SDP, which prefigured New Labour not only in its enthusiasm for the market, but also in the cult of the leader that surrounded both Owen and Blair. Labour, which always places equality above liberty, is prone to conformist and controlling tendencies -- of a kind that awkward, cussedly individualist Liberals such as Kennedy automatically reject.
  7. Class warfare. New Labour may have had a (very) soft spot for plutocrats and Tuscan holidays, but the party retains an undignified chippiness and weakness for class warfare gestures -- such as the ban on hunting with hounds, which was never about helping foxes but about savaging toffs. Not only has it been completely ineffectual, it was philosophically incoherent, too. If foxes should be saved painful deaths during the course of a countryside pursuit, what about the millions of fish speared through the mouth for sport every year? Kennedy did actually vote for the ban -- but, as a Liberal, he must view Labour's low-politics class gestures with distaste.
  8. Sectional interests. Trade unions provide far too much money and hold far too much influence within the Labour Party. Liberals do not believe in being beholden to any special or sectional interest groups.
  9. Kennedy won't want to destroy the party he once led. The formation of the SDP damaged Labour and was partly responsible for its disastrous showing in the 1983 general election. Could Kennedy possibly want to inflict similar damage on the Liberal Democrats -- or even worse?
  10. He could be the leader again. If the coalition falls apart or the Lib Dems are wiped out in the local elections, the party may wish to be open to negotiations with Labour, especially if the next general election results in another hung parliament. In the current NS, Ed Miliband rules out dealing with the Lib Dems if Nick Clegg is still leader, and whoever wins Labour's contest may well take the same view. Who could they talk to in his stead? Step forward, Charles Kennedy, who, when asked in 2006, refused to rule out standing again for the Lib Dem leadership at some point in the future. Given his opposition to the Con-Lib coalition, he would be the obvious choice.

So don't be a charlie, Charlie: the Labour Party doesn't deserve you -- you're way too good for them.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear