UK Politics

Labour: Alastair Campbell expulsion 'spiteful', says Tom Watson

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Media captionCampbell: 'I'm still in the Labour Party as far as I'm concerned'

Labour's decision to expel Alastair Campbell was "spiteful", the party's deputy leader says, arguing it should be "listening rather than punishing".

Tony Blair's former spin doctor was kicked out of the party after revealing he had voted for the Liberal Democrats in the European elections.

But Tom Watson called for an "amnesty" for members disillusioned by the party's lack of "clarity" on Brexit.

Labour said supporting another party was "incompatible" with membership.

A spokeswoman said the issue was not about voting, but Mr Campbell "using media appearances to advertise and encourage support for another party".

But Mr Watson said to be a "broad church", Labour needed "pluralism and tolerance to survive", adding: "It is spiteful to resort to expulsions when [the party] should be listening to members."

'Sneering'

Labour's share of the vote fell to 14% in last week's European elections and several senior figures have blamed the party's nuanced position on Brexit.

The deputy leader is one of those who has been putting pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to back a further referendum.

But Labour chairman Ian Lavery - who is against another referendum - has called on pro-Remain members of his party to stop "sneering at ordinary people" who support Brexit.

Writing in the Guardian, the MP for Wansbeck, accused "a certain portion of left-wing intellectuals" of "piling on those trying to convey the feelings of hundreds of thousands of Labour voters".

Mr Lavery said Labour could not win a general election "by simply fighting for the biggest share of 48%" - the proportion that voted Remain in 2016 - because it must hold onto Leave voters too.

Mr Campbell announced over Twitter on Tuesday that he had been expelled from the party, after revealing during the BBC's election night broadcast how he had voted.

On the programme, he accused Labour of "letting its own supporters down" in "failing to devise a policy the country could unite around" over Brexit.

A number of other senior Labour figures have since confirmed they too had voted for different parties in the European polls.

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke said he voted Lib Dem, along with ex-MP Fiona Mactaggart, while former Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said he voted Green.

'Always be Labour'

Speaking to reporters after his ousting, Mr Campbell - who is a vocal "People's Vote" campaigner for another referendum - claimed members of Mr Corbyn's office and front bench had been among those to send "messages of support" after his revelation.

He said he would appeal the decision, adding: "I will always be Labour."

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Media caption"I voted Liberal Democrat" says Alastair Campbell

Lord Falconer, who served in Mr Blair's government alongside Mr Campbell, accused Mr Corbyn's leadership team of taking the "politically explosive" decision to expel his former colleague.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he did not believe Mr Campbell had broken membership rules, but if they had been, "maybe tens of thousands" of members had followed suit.

He said it seemed "absolutely inconceivable that a decision like that would have been taken simply by an official operating a process", adding: "It's bound to have been taken higher up the chain."

Who is Alastair Campbell?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Alastair Campbell with former PM Tony Blair

Mr Campbell was a political journalist before coming to prominence in Whitehall as a key member of the Labour PM's staff in 1994.

He served as Mr Blair's chief press secretary until 2000 and was a controversial figure, heavily involved in policy, including over the Iraq War.

Since leaving government, he has opened up about his struggles with depression and alcoholism, and works with a number of charities.

He also campaigns for the People's Vote and is editor-at-large of The New European magazine.

Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman questioned why her party was so quick to expel Mr Campbell, but had allowed the "festering" of anti-Semitism - allegations that are now being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The former challenger for the Labour leadership, Owen Smith, also said his party had been "incredibly slow to expel some people who look to me to be prima facie anti-Semites".

'Personal battles'

Others, though, have defended the party for following the rules.

Clare Short, a former Labour MP who quit Mr Blair's cabinet, said the decision was "nothing special", adding: "If you're in the Brownies and you say I don't think people should join the Brownies, you'll probably be thrown out of the Brownies."

The UK's longest serving MEP, Labour's David Martin - who lost his seat in this month's elections - said he did not want Mr Campbell thrown out of the party.

But he told BBC News: "I think it is inexcusable for people who have benefitted from the Labour Party over many years to fight their personal battles… on a public stage."

Last week, veteran Conservative and pro-European Lord Heseltine admitted he planned to vote Lib Dem in the election. The party responded by effectively expelling him.