Alastair Campbell is trying to destroy Corbyn's leadership. The left cannot win by capitulating to him, argues Katherine Connelly
On the night the votes to the European Parliament were announced, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, was one of the commentators on the BBC’s election broadcast. At that point a member of the Labour Party, Campbell announced that he had voted for the Liberal Democrats in protest at the Labour leadership’s stance on Brexit. As a result of this very public attack on Labour and declared support for another party, Campbell was expelled from the Labour Party in accordance with Labour Party rules.
Given Campbell’s stance, it might seem extraordinary that he has spent the days since the expulsion loudly protesting it and proclaiming that he would “always be Labour”.
But, if we look at Campbell’s case in context, it is hardly surprising at all. Campbell was Tony Blair’s Director of Communications, he personified what was euphemistically called “spin”, he is a journalist and editor-at-large of The New European. He knows a bit about the media then. And when he made those comments on the BBC, he knew exactly what he was doing. So, what was he doing?
By the end of the week, Campbell was declaring that his expulsion was “discriminatory”. This is not the first time that the right-wing in Labour, of which Alastair Campbell is a leading spokesman, have used the language of discrimination. It was used over antisemitism by Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger when they left Labour to form the dismal, pro-Remain Change UK. It continues to be used in that way by Margaret Hodge, who remains in Labour despite her own call at the European election for people not to vote Labour but for pro-Remain parties. This language is used to disarm the left, steadfast champions of opposing discrimination. It is therefore extremely important that we do not capitulate when accusations are levelled as a means of advancing a right-wing attack, that instead we expose them for what they are.
Alastair Campbell is making a very public attack on Jeremy Corbyn and the left in Labour to whom he is utterly, ideologically opposed. Let’s recall what politics Campbell represents. An architect of the anti-left, pro-capitalist New Labour project, Campbell became most notorious for his vociferous support for Blair’s drive to attack Iraq alongside the neocon President George W. Bush. Campbell was responsible for the “dodgy dossier”, deploying that “spin” again to launch a war which resulted in devastation in Iraq and the wider region.
Campbell was therefore one of those responsible for a massively unpopular war which did unparalleled damage to the Labour Party. With such a track record, Campbell’s comments about voting against Labour because he was worried about electoral success should be examined rather sceptically. Campbell apparently doesn’t mind Labour taking unpopular decisions – as long as he personally agrees with them. As a matter of fact, there is no evidence for the argument that ditching Corbyn’s attempt to unite voters on anti-austerity, anti-Tory grounds in favour of a divisive pro-Remain stance would help Labour’s chances in a general election. Campbell’s comments, then, were not the reasonable pragmatism they were dressed up as, but an ideological assault on the left. He can, and must, be resisted if Labour is to avoid going back to the most damaging and discredited politics of its recent history.
Kate Connelly is a writer and historian. She led school student strikes in the British anti-war movement in 2003, co-ordinated the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign in 2013 and is a leading member of Counterfire. She wrote the acclaimed biography, 'Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire' and recently edited and introduced 'A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change'.
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