Why it was unlikely Charles Kennedy would defect to Labour

9:45 am - August 22nd 2010

by Sunny Hundal    

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I’m surprised the rumour that Charles Kennedy was going to defect to Labour got as much traction as it did.

It was somewhat ludicrous from the start, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Charles Kennedy’s team encouraged it. It never fails to surprise me how much Labourites don’t understand the Libdems (not that Tories are any better) even on basic issues.

What’s is a top issue that Libdems hold close to their hearts? At a guess, I’d say civil liberties rates very highly.

What was Labour’s record on civil liberties until May 2010? Abysmal.

And what does Labour say about it now? Here is Alan Johnson in an interview with the Times a few weeks ago:

Mr Johnson, who was Home Secretary until the election, is clearly furious with the younger Miliband brother for suggesting that Labour got the balance wrong on civil liberties. “Well, he never said that in three years sitting around the Cabinet table. I can’t think of a single issue on which Labour got the balance wrong on civil liberties.

Although Ed Miliband has called during the leadership contest for identity cards to be scrapped and counter- terrorism measures reviewed, Mr Johnson insists: “When the new Government get the chance to look at exactly what they’re facing [from terrorists] I hope they recognise that these measures have been necessary.

This is why it would be absurd for any senior Libdem to join the Labour party. I have a sneaking feeling David Miliband’s team won’t be campaigning to get ID cards and 90 days back on the agenda despite this bluster.

So, it’s unlikely Charles Kennedy and friends would seriously consider defecting to Labour before the leadership election is decided. If Alan Johnson stays as shadow Home Secretary – forget about it.

It’s more likely Charles Kennedy wanted to let it be known he was angry that the left of the Libdems were being ignored (as they clearly are). That’s why he took so long to quash the rumours.

Libdems can laugh off these rumours as silly season – but I suspect someone was trying to make a point. And it wasn’t Ed Miliband.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Libdems ,Westminster

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Reader comments

1. Value of nothing

hmmm you are outraged by Labour’s record on civil liberties but you just joined Labour. I don’t think Kennedy was ever going to join Labour but remember that joining a party is always an act of compromise and people often join a party in the hope that it will change.


FWIW I’d be more impressed with the contending Labour leadership hopefuls to read about the Party’s new or upcoming “progressive policies” than to see these reports of adolescent tribalistic games.

Charles Kennedy was one of the principal reasons I didn’t bother to vote in the 2005 elections. In a BBC Today interview shortly before election day, John Humphrys asked him about joining the Euro. “It was a missed opportunity,” CK replied, thereby demonstrating he really didn’t understand the issues.

With the then lower interest rates prevailing in the Eurozone, Britain’s house price bubble would have been much worse in the absence of government intervention to curb mortgage lending – and CK wasn’t proposing any reforms of the regulation of financial institutions and markets.

Frankly, I doubt that anyone would be greatly impressed if CK did defect to Labour.

There is one thing that eventually even Lib Dems will come to realise: there is just something fundamentally wrong with any idea of civil liberties that is so entangled with right-wing economics that it serves not to stop things done, but merely to stop things being done with tax-payers money.

In the final analysis, labour, lib dem and tory would intervene in any way to keep the capitalist ship afloat and social control is key to it’s maintenence. The information contained on any proposed identity cards is information already known to the state, the only consequence of scrapping the idea is that it appeals to some abstract notion of ‘civil liberties’. Charles Kennedy can take his pick, he might even toss a coin to decide, what he’ll get is more of the same and so will the voter.

Well, the story emerged from a Left-Labour source & Ed M was the one who made the most of it. If I thought anyone in your Party had the brains I would have said it was attempt to distract attention from Lord Prescotts speech – “falling membership, verge of Bankruptcy etc”.

The Lib Dem left wanted a coalition with Labour to lock the Tories out, preferable for good. Now that hasn’t happened toys are beginning to fly out of the pram. As far as they were concerned, a coalition was a great idea as long as it wasn’t with the Tories.


Sure ID cards and 90 days were wrong and there were plenty of people in Labour who said so, but be careful about castigating Labour for its law & order stance.

The LibDems are a middle class party. You only need to look at the Orange Book policies to realise that the only people to benefit are the middle classes. Crime does not affect the middle classes as much as lower income people. The LibDems do not understand the effect of crime on lower income families and in general the LibDems do not have the answer on “civil liberties”. We should not look to them as experts in this area. Labour may not have had the complete answer, but they did recognise that anti-social behaviour blighted the lives of people who did not have the money to buy their way away from it.

Take, for example, CCTV cameras. They are popular because they are a deterrent and they do cut crime. A Home Office commissioned survey said that 70% of people wanted them.

Frankly I do not care about LibDem middle class whittering about “civil liberties”. I do care about the civil liberties of the country as a whole (hence I am against some of the terrorist laws and ID cards), and I do care about reducing crime. Getting the balance right is never going to be easy, but pandering to a party who only think about the middle classes will not help.

Why would he want to come to New labour, it’s more Tory then the concervatives for god sake.

9. George W. Potter

@Richard Blogger

I don’t know which Lib Dems you’ve met but my local party campaigned hard (against the Tory run council’s opposition) to get CCTV cameras installed in crime hot spots. They succeeded and in one place (an underpass which hundreds of people had to use to get to Tescos which had seen dozens f violent attacks) the crime rate dropped by over 99%.

We don’t have an irrational dislike of CCTV. However, we do have a completely irrational dislike of authoritarian, unjustified things such as ID cards, 90 days detention, control orders, stop and search, RIPA, etc. Those laws did not make us safe, all they did was the state more power which it did not deserve and which was frighteningly open to abuse. How are we protected when people can be locked up for weeks, or confined to their homes on the basis of evidence which they never see and which they can’t even defend themselves against? That’s protection in the way that the Stasi “protected” people.

And what you miss with CCTV cameras is that there’s nothing wrong as long as they’re used appropriately. Unfortunately, to Alan Johnson and Co, “appropriate” means nothing more than “wherever we feel like it because we’re in charge and we know best”.

10. Alisdair Cameron

You overlook an additional dimension (though I think you are correct in the major reasons relating to New Labour illiberalism and the policies upheld directly by the major candidates for the Labour leadership). Were Kennedy ever to have contemplated a transfer of allegiance, the thought of the tight-knit,controlling,hostile, and in pockets, criminally compromised (c.f. Purcell) Scottish Labour apparatus would have put him off.
He’d be going from being a big fish in a smallish pond, to being a medium fish in the larger pond of the nation-wide Labour party, but also to having to swim in the narrower, but unequivocally choppy and dangerous straits of Scottish Labour, where his survival would be less certain.

@7 Richard Blogger

Following on from George @9, throwing rocks at the LD’s (for whom I have never had any time by the way, and have even less now!) for being too “middle class” is a bit rich after 13 wasted years with a crypto Tory “Labour” party in power.

Reducing crime is a laudable aim of course, although I wouldn’t say it was on the top of many people’s list of concerns in comparison with say the health service, education and the economy. Whilst it is true that poorer people are probably more likely to be the victims of crime, I doubt many would agree that this means ipso facto that the LD’s don’t have the answer because they are too middle class.

Reducing crime and/or anti-social behaviour can and should be done by devoting more resources to law enforcement, modernising the judicial framework where it seems sensible to do so, and bringing about a more equal society by reducing the disparity between the richest and the poorest.

It should NOT be done by the uncritical acceptance of illiberal, authoritarian measures infringing civil liberties, toadying to the right wing media, and a supine view that the unregulated market knows best. The promotion of all of these things proves that NuLabour were not a party of the left, still less a progressive or radical force in British politics. It would be great if the scales fell from their eyes, and they became such a force, but given the state of the party, and the vacuous bunch of political pygmies fighting for the leadership, I won’t be holding my breath.

12. Chris Baldwin

There’s no reason for Kennedy, Hughes et al to stay in the Lib Dems. Better they come over to our side and help us gang up on the authoritarian tendency within Labour.

What’s is a top issue that Libdems hold close to their hearts?

That the poor have too much., they’re really no different to the other strands of entitled reaction.

Well, personal hygiene issues and a tendency to froth at the mouth excepted.

hmmm you are outraged by Labour’s record on civil liberties but you just joined Labour.

Yes, while explicitly saying I didn’t like their stance on civil liberties at the last election.

Richard – I don’t buy the exaggeration about CCTV either – but I’m not convinced that the ‘lock em up and build bigger prisons’ approach to crime is useful. See Neil Robertson’s various articles on the issue here.

Sunny, how many people in the Labour Party do you think seriously thought Kennedy was going to defect?

Of course Ed M (and a few others) thought he could gain points by playing it up; that doesn’t mean he seriously thought it was going to happen.

This was a non-story from start to finish; it just happened it was in all the key actors’ (Kennedy, Miliband, the press) interests to pretend it was a story.

The more I think about it, this really should be filed under the “even if it were true, so what?” category.

Kennedy, whilst popular with the rank and file before his leadership imploded, can hardly point to any huge successes in propelling the LD’s forward can he? Self-deprecating appearances on “Have I Got News for You” are one thing, but he’s not just yesterdays man, he’s the man from a few years ago.

His defection may have been an embarrassment for the LD’s, but how much good would it have done Labour? If Kennedy HAD seriously thought of defecting, the current state of the Labour party must have given him pause for thought!

Those LD’s who are on the left of their party, and feel increasingly queasy about the coalition, would be well advised to keep their powder dry for the firing squad awaiting Clegg and his cronies when the coalition collapses, no?

17. valueofnothing

Indeed Sunny that was my point. I never thought Kennedy would join Labour because he is tribally loyal to the Lib Dems. Your explanation however was civil liberties. I find this a less than convincing explanation as joining a party is an act of compromise.

Odd, really. I never thought about the lib-dems as being a particularly middle-class party ’till well after I joined them. Maybe they are. But loss of civil liberties affects all the other classes as well, oddly enough.

Are little things like the right to protest, a fair trial by jury, and not being locked up in your own house on the say-so of the government really things that only the middle classes might get annoyed about?

I guess all the dumb proles are too busy ranting about immigration to notice, eh.

I guess all the dumb proles are too busy ranting about immigration to notice, eh

Ah, the echt voice of the Liberal Democrat.

Remember back when they still bothered trying to hide it beneath a torrent of unconvincing faux egalitarianism?

20. Derek Young

Kennedy didn’t set this hare running, he (and the Lib Dems) were quick enough to describe the rumours as daft. Who does this speculation help? Junior Miliband, who needs more attention if he’s to give his brother a run for his money. So, to big-head Ed, I’m happy to report that Labour is almost as far removed as it is possible to conceive from a “natural home” for genuine liberals. Liberals don’t believe in saddling future generations with our debts of selfishness. Liberals don’t accept that cutting public spending from £700bn to £600bn (i.e. still over £1.14 million for every minute of every day) constitutes a decimation of the public sector or the end of the welfare state. Labour generally believes that the State provides the answer to all problems, while Liberals generally believe that people are more free when the State stops trying to run their lives for them, thank you very much. The Labour high command talk all they like about “fellow progressives” betraying them, but those who they feel betrayed by owe them nothing whatsoever. The betrayal is all in their tiny minds.

@19: How did you fail to spot @18’s sarcasm? It was flagged as obviously as possible without actually putting “(btw that was sarcasm)” after the “dumb proles” comment.

The dismissal of concern with civil liberties as middle class self-indulgence is a standard trick of the authoritarian right; the Tories were doing it for decades before New Labour started, and no doubt will again next time they decide to dismantle a few more hard-won freedoms (this time with LibDem connivance).

The LibDems, of course, *are* an essentially middle class party, but it’s not concern with civil liberties and a failure to jump on the anti-immigration bandwagon that makes them so: it’s their economic policies.

@19: How did you fail to spot @18?s sarcasm? It was flagged as obviously as possible without actually putting “(btw that was sarcasm)” after the “dumb proles” comment.

Because it’s entirely consistent with Lib Dem practice, doctrine and discourse (albeit usually lightly disguised.)

Ranting about “tribalism” as if proles lack legitimate class interests or rudimentary theoretical skills is something of a giveaway ain’t it? Perhaps they’re joking about that too, the lighthearted japesters.

I understood most of the anti-“tribalism” rants as being about *party* tribalism: i.e. aimed not at the idea that the working class has legitimate and distinct interests, but at the assumption that the modern Labour Party represents those interests. This is a legitimate point in itself, however rich it may sound coming from LibDems.

To clarify further, I suspect the sarcasm @18 was inspired by Richard Blogger @7, who is generally only readable (if you care about things like supporting evidence, absence of baseless, windy assertion etc etc) on the NHS.


Fair play.

Being something of a “tribalist” (and aware of the contents of the yellow book) myself I never considered anyone could think of them as anything other than either daft or malevolent. :o)

Oh, this joint has smileys. Who knew?

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why it was unlikely Charles Kennedy would defect to Labour http://bit.ly/9tfjGN

  2. Will Wilcox

    RT @libcon: Why it was unlikely Charles Kennedy would defect to Labour http://bit.ly/9tfjGN

  3. Peter Bolton

    CK will not be joining Labour. Quite! http://t.co/Ao0TFeC via @libcon

  4. Darren Bridgman

    RT @libcon: Why it was unlikely Charles Kennedy would defect to Labour http://bit.ly/9tfjGN <excellent blog

  5. Kev

    RT @libcon: Why it was unlikely Charles Kennedy would defect to Labour http://bit.ly/9tfjGN

  6. Naadir Jeewa

    Reading: Why it was unlikely Charles Kennedy would defect to Labour: I’m surprised the rumour that Charles Kennedy… http://bit.ly/d1z3JF

  7. sunny hundal

    Why I thought it was always unlikely Charles Kennedy would defect to Labour so soon http://bit.ly/9tfjGN

  8. House Of Twits

    RT @sunny_hundal Why I thought it was always unlikely Charles Kennedy would defect to Labour so soon http://bit.ly/9tfjGN

  9. Derek Bryant

    RT @sunny_hundal: Why I thought it was always unlikely Charles Kennedy would defect to Labour so soon http://bit.ly/9tfjGN

  10. jolyonwagg1

    RT @HouseofTwits: RT @sunny_hundal Why I thought it was always unlikely #CharlesKennedy would #defect to #Labour http://bit.ly/9tfjGN #UK

  11. jolyonwagg1

    RT @HouseofTwits: RT @sunny_hundal Why I thought it was always unlikely #CharlesKennedy would #defect to #Labour http://bit.ly/9tfjGN #UK

  12. sunny hundal

    @danieloprey I did vote for them: http://bit.ly/ajvXHM – but I've always been a big critic of Labour on civil libs http://bit.ly/9tfjGN

  13. Is this how D-Miliband supporters will unite Labour: by swift-boating Ed? | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] Blunkett’s view that Labour did nothing wrong over civil liberties was recently echoed by Alan Johnson when he was trashing Ed. Do these people not realise Labour can’t win power without either […]

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