Thirty-six hours. That’s how long it took the Labour Party to expel Alastair Campbell after he revealed he had voted for the Liberal Democrats in the European elections. The man who had played such a central role in Labour’s 1997 landslide victory and who had been a key figure in the party for decades was unceremoniously kicked out faster than you can say “anti-semitism scandal”.
Unlike Labour leaver Kate Hoey, who today said Nigel Farage should be part of the government’s Brexit negotiating team, or indeed Jeremy Corbyn himself who previously backed George Galloway, Campbell does not have a track record of publicly supporting other parties. His only crime was daring to admit that, this time, he had decided to back a party that is unambiguously campaigning to stop Brexit, in order to send a message to the Labour leadership that it must come off the fence on an issue of such historic importance.
Of course, Campbell is in good company when it comes to backing the Lib Dems in these elections. He joins Labour peer and former Eastenders star Michael Cashman, former Labour Home Secretary Charles Clarke and thousands of others who decided to put the national interest above party politics by supporting Britain’s strongest Remain party. Recent polling analysis found that almost four in ten (37 per cent) of those who voted Lib Dem last Thursday were Labour voters in 2017. If Labour insist on kicking out every single member that may have voted Lib Dem this time round, they risk going from being one of Europe’s largest parties to one of its smallest.
While Labour is busy kicking out its members, Lib Dems are welcoming them in. Thousands of new members have joined our party in the past week, buoyed by our success in the European elections, with over 2,000 joining yesterday alone. At this rate, we might even overtake the Conservative Party, whose own ranks have been swelled by extreme, head-banging Brexiteers. We have a clear message for all those Labour supporters who feel passionate about Britain’s EU membership and no longer feel comfortable within their own party: Join us. Together, we can provide a strong voice for the millions of voters who feel powerless and frustrated with the direction our country is taking and stop Brexit for good.
In the late 1990s, there was great hope for a realignment of British politics through a progressive alliance between the late Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair. However, Blair went cold on the idea and moves towards greater cross-party cooperation gradually faltered. Now there is real potential for a new realignment, with the Liberal Democrats at its heart. How ironic that Blair’s former spin doctor could be the one who unintentionally helps deliver it.
Ed Davey is Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson and MP for Kingston and Surbiton.