John Kampfner backs the Lib Dems – your LDV reader

by Stephen Tall on March 10, 2010

As LDV reported early yesterday, former New Statesman editor John Kampfner – author of the fantastic Blair’s Wars – has declared his intention to vote for the Lib Dems at the coming general election, and called on all fellow progressives who might once have voted Labour to join him.

Later in the day, the party issued an email from John to all members and supporters explaining his decision:

Today I launched my pamphlet, Lost labours, with Nick Clegg.

As somebody who has a long involvement with the Labour party, including editing the New Statesman magazine, I have been able to give a frank and honest appraisal of a decade and a half of New Labour. And in it I explain why I can no longer support them, and am instead turning to the Liberal Democrats. You can read a more condensed version in an article I wrote for the Guardian here.

Alongside one million other voters, I deserted Labour in 2005 in protest at Iraq in favour of the Liberal Democrats, the only party to oppose the war. My decision to back the Lib Dems in 2010 is based in a more fundamental appraisal of Labour’s record together with a positive assessment of the Liberal Democrats’ platform.

New Labour in office has had one all-consuming purpose: re-election. Since 1997, their every working day was based around the task of prolonging their term of office. It filled in the ideological hollow and justified ever-encroaching authoritarianism and a pandering to the right on criminal justice and other areas of social policy. In contrast, the Liberal Democrat analysis of the failures of the deregulated market has been consistently, and painfully, accurate. Nick Clegg’s tax reform plans, taking four million low paid workers out of tax altogether, are the most redistributive of any party. And the Liberal Democrat approach to criminal justice, human rights, foreign and social policy is close to mine.

People can only for so long be exhorted to hold their nose, to vote for a party they feel has let them down, simply because the alternative is worse. It is deeply damaging to politics to resort perpetually to the double negative. The Liberal Democrats offer a positive, radical and different vision. That is why they have my support.

His defection from the Labour to Lib Dem cause clearly rattled Labour, with former leader Lord (Neil) Kinnock peevishly labelling him “amnesiac and myopic”. Sky News’s Adam Boulton understood the significance of the move:

… it is a wake-up call as to just how important the Lib Dems and their vote are going to be in a general election. … [in the coming election] the Lib Dems would be taking seats from Labour in the North and Scotland, which would go some way to compensate for their seats in the South, Southwest and Wales under threat from the Conservatives. The Tories would be squeezing the Lib Dems but the Lib Dems would be squeezing Labour in the parts the Conservatives can’t reach.

Kampfner-type defectors fit exactly into this scenario. In fact he personally isn’t much of a scalp – he voted Lib Dem last time because of the war and lives in the safe Labour seat of Holborn and St Pancras. But the more disillusioned Labour supporters who follow in his path, the worse it will be for Gordon Brown, even if Kampfner himself is not yet signing up to Clegg’s dream that the Lib Dems could one day replace Labour as Britain’s party of the Centre Left.

(One quibble with Adam’s analysis: the Lib Dems are second-placed in Holborn and St Pancras, with Jo Shaw requiring an eminently gettable 7% swing to oust Labour).

Heres what Lib Dem bloggers have been saying:

Please do add any links which I’ve missed, or published subsequent to this post.