Those Kennedy defection rumours

We at LDV Towers know nothing more than anyone else about rumours circulated by Ed Miliband’s campaign team yesterday of Charles Kennedy thinking of defecting from the Lib Dems to Labour.

According to Lib Dem sources, Kennedy has personally scotched them.

The most likely explanation would seem to be that tried and tested Labour technique of spreading unfounded stories about others to cover up bad news about themselves.

Whatever the reality, one thing would be very odd indeed were the story to be true: the timing.

The information clearly hasn’t come from Kennedy, but from the Labour Party. Yet if a party – any party – has a defector crossing the floor, they move heaven and earth to time the news release for the maximum media impact; and that’s not in the dead days of August. The party conference season is just a few weeks away.

If the story were true, Labour has been impressively inept  in letting it come out like this.

The tale originated from a post by Mark Seddon on the Left Futures blog. The article appears to be little more than a piece to boost the candidacy of Miliband E. for the Labour leadership.  It may be a subtle clue as to the accuracy of the claims that Seddon even fails to correctly identify Kennedy’s constituency.  He puts Kennedy as representing Caithness and Sutherland, which may come as something of a surprise to the good people of Ross, Skye and Lochaber.

Lib Dem pundit Olly Grender is in little doubt

Charles Kennedy rumour re defection is total fiction – a Labour generated silly season story – nice try @Ed_Miliband

So we shall see; but everything right now is pointing to this being a bit of cheap Labour gossip without foundation.

Update: Charles Kennedy has now confirmed that the rumours carry no substance and he’s staying in the Lib Dems.

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38 Comments

  • Sunder Katwala 21st Aug '10 - 10:04am

    Agree. The claim appears to be that three sources could confirm that there is a rumour! It is an example of the sort of thing that would previously have been Westminster village gossip but now gets blogged and tweeted about before there is any substantiation. (Though the reference to one of them being close to the Ed M campaign does not demonstrate it began there, but may rather an attempt to somehow give it more weight).

    The art of defections is that they should come as a complete surprise – the cloak and dagger accounts of Emma Nicholson’s defection to the LibDems in Paddy Ashdown’s diaries, and of Alan Howarth to Labour in Alastair Campbell’s capture this well. On the other hand, pre-briefing attempts at defections – notably Oliver Letwin and others long-running attempts to secure David Laws, and Tory attempts to get a blairite defector ahead of the last election – both diminish the chances of their happening and reduce their impact.

    But surely the root of the rumour is Kennedy’s evident unhappiness with the decision to form a coalition, though it is quite a further leap to suggest that he would switch parties as a result. It would be more likely for him to take the view that the Coalition is not for life, and that he may have more influence within the LibDems in pursuing that opinion over the next couple of years. There were clearly some LibDem attempts to play down the extent of Charles Kennedy’s unhappiness about the Coalition, for example briefing on the night of the deal that no MP had voted against the decision to jon the Coalition was intended to give an impression of unanimity, with the former leader’s abstention coming out after a couple of days when it had less impact.

    Labour should certainly want active dialogue with those LibDems who are unhappy about the direction of the Coalition, and who may challenge and oppose aspects of Coalition policy from a social liberal perspective, while there remain many Labour voices who do hope Nick Clegg will decide he actively wants to win the AV referendum and so may even try to construct the alliances on that issue which would give the yes campaign a fighting shot.

    Kennedy is clearly in that camp, and so there are lots of reasons for Ed Miliband and other Labour voices to engage with him and other social liberals. Defections are not the only possible approach or outcome to that.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Aug '10 - 10:32am

    I hope Kennedy decides not to defect. The Lib Dems desperately need people like him within their fold if they are to resist total absorption into the Tory Party.

  • Sunder Katwala 21st Aug '10 - 11:09am

    Mark

    It feels to me rather more of a flyer reporting Westminster gossip by Mark Seddon and Left Futures – bolstered by the rumour being attributed partly to “a source close to the Ed Miliband campaign” (which quite possibly means an MP or adviser supporting EM, given that it isn’t attributed to a source on/inside the campaign).

    If it was a deliberate Ed M team story, I think it much much more likely you would have read it first on the front-page of the Independent on Sunday or Observer, or in the Guardian, and considerably more likely still that they would have kept it very much under wraps until it was real. Instead they have confirmed that they haven’t had any meetings or discussions, which again to me suggests it isn’t really their story.

    A “six defections” rumour is very non-credible. Though, if we did have five or six possibles, I do hope we would roll them out on a fortnightly cycle!!

    But I am guessing from the public clues. So you might be right. my view has always been that real defections are never trailed. That doesn’t rule out mischief-making but given credible reports of Charles Kennedy’s unhappiness with the coalition, it is not at all in Labour’s interest or Ed Miliband’s to stitch him up or annoy him.

  • So, no truth in the report on Red Rag’s website then?

  • He shouldnt defect to Labour an independant Lib Dem movement is what is required for your poor regular voters.

  • Interesting to read about what may be going on behind the scenes.

    @ Sunder –
    can I ask how all this fits in with Ed Miliband’s claim that he aims to make the Lib Dems extinct (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/aug/20/labour-hints-charles-kennedy-defect-liberal-democrats)?

    I don’t understand what Ed Miliband is on about – OK, this anti-LibDem stance will play well with that part of Labour which supplies most of the angriest Guardian CiF commenters. However, it makes little strategic sense beyond September 25th to make statements like this, and if he overdoes it, he’ll break off bridges which he may need quite soon. I wonder whether Ed M’s campaign is getting a little bit over-enthusiastic….. or just a tad desperate?

    In any case, is it possible that the Kennedy rumour was indeed released by the Ed M campaign to back up his claims along those lines? Or, alternatively, whether an overenthusiastic pro-Ed M. blogger got a little bit too excited.

    Of course, over in the Guardian CiF they are even speculating that this is coming fromt he Tory Right. But as much as I’d like to pin Macchiavellian plots onto them, it just doesn’t sound likely…..

    All in all, a bit of a mess for all involved. I think this is exactly the kind of sneaky anonymous briefing that people grew to hate in recent years…..

  • The blogosphere, and particularly the twittersphere at its very, very worst. BBC is reporting the fact that there are numerous reports on blogs/twitter as though that means anything.

    Several years back stuff like this wouldn’t have made it into the media without some (off the record) substantiation. Eg the various rumours during the Ashdown “project” which were pretty much all broadly accurate.

    One issue for the party is how we respond to such things. And another is what does it say about our activists that the common response was “I hope he doesn’t do that” rather than, “what a load of nonsense”?

  • Is anybody else even slightly worried at this rumour? agreed it is only a rumour but that doesn’t hide the fact that there are deep misgivings about the current direction of the party, after all we are talking about an ex leader here for gods sake, it’s incredible that even a ‘rumour’ has surfaced and somebody somewhere actually thought it may just happen. it just goes to show just how far the public (and others) believe we have shifted to the right.
    Besides it’s not Charles Kennedy’s supposed defection we should worry about, it’s the general public, when they start (if they haven’t already) to defect we should ALL worry

  • It’s not a rumour because it’s been admitted in the Daily Mail that he has had talks about it and his office says that he hasn’t rebuffed the offer either.

    I think he probably will defect, why would the Labour whips leak this if he hadn’t had discussions about it and why would they leak it at this time and not at a more damaging time such as the budget?

    Let’s face it, the writing is on the wall for you lot as a centre-left party. If Clegg’s masterplan is to target the Tory vote then fair enough but if your all labouring under the illusion that you can emerge from all of this as a viable centre-left party then you are all tragically mistaken.

  • Also let’s be honest, the old SDP faction in the Liberal Democrats don’t belong there anymore, they belong back to where they came from, back home in the Labour Party. The leadership of the Liberal Democrats are now dominated by the right, in a coalition with the Tories, Charles Kennedy belongs to the Labour Party and many,many, activists would welcome him and others like him with open arms.

  • @ George
    To be honest,defection IS fast becoming the only viable option for many in the party, myself included unfortunately.

  • It was posted here before Left Futures, the same text by the same author- http://bigthink.com/ideas/22913

    I would swap Charles Kennedy and Simon Hughes for Frank Field and Alan Milburn in a heartbeat. I’ll even throw in a free Peter Mandelson. Always liked Charles Kennedy and I probably always will.

    Anyway, Ed Miliband has said that he hasn’t spoken to Charles Kennedy about a defection. It doesn’t look to be true to me, for example one of the reasons cited was that Trident wouldn’t be considered for the chop- I don’t know why for that specific cause he would think Labour’s a better place to be.

    As for where the rumour came from, I wouldn’t discount the Tory right immediately- in their tweets they didn’t seem to question it, rather it was a case of “Good riddance, bugger off to Labour.” Torybear tweeted about it very early on in the day, before all the Labour tweeters got their hands on it, and that’s how I first heard about it.

    Some nasty stuff from Lib Dems yesterday too.

  • “Go on Kennedy, sod of to Labour, the home of failures and wasters…”

    Torybear tweeted this about 4pm, so not very early on in the day. Early on in my “current affairs” time, maybe, but not in the day.

  • From that Guardian article-

    “Labour confirmed its ambition to woo any disaffected Lib Dems and claimed to have talked with Kennedy, who later dismissed the rumours as “the silliest of silly season stories”.”

    The Daily Mail gives that quote to Nick Clegg, not Charles Kennedy. Would love to know where Charles Kennedy has commented himself.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Aug '10 - 1:17pm

    “Would love to know where Charles Kennedy has commented himself.”

    The BBC is still saying he is “not available for comment.”

  • What is needed is quite simple. A clear and unambiguous statement from Kennedy that he has not been in discussion with Labour about defecting and has no intention of doing so. If he has been tLking to them about leaving us he should have the whip withdrawn.
    If this is not dealt with now we will have years of ‘will he, won’t he’ discssions ahead.

  • coldcomfort 21st Aug '10 - 3:43pm

    Poor George. Like many others he suffers from the delusion that ‘New Labour’ has any connection with traditional Labour. It never has, and unless it elects Dianne Abbott as Leader, it never will. It is not surprising that it makes a bed fellow of the Tory right in its’ desire to destroy the Lib Dems. Despite the fact that it cannot afford another General Election, & the country needs one like a hole in the head, New Labour has never allowed the common good to stand in the way of its’ own self interest. On the contrary it has unswerving conviction that its’ own self interest IS the common good. Why shouldn’t Kennedy [or Clegg or Cameron for that matter] talk to to the aspirants [I can’t see much leadership talent there – except aforementioned Abbott] for the New Labour ‘Crown’ . It means nothing unless somehow the forces of darkness can bring the coalition down. None of us got what we wanted from the electorate. Tories & Labour didn’t get the dictatorship as before, we didn’t get massively increased numbers of MPs. For thirteen years we had GRTT [Government by Red Top Tabloid] as Blair & the rest swayed every which way to keep the unelected like Rupert Murdoch & big money onside & to hell with the rest of us. I’m not happy with a lot of stuff that the coalition is doing but I firmly believe that if we LibDems don’t hold our nerve & give it every chance of success the alternatives will be totally dreadful.

  • @ George
    Charles Kennedy belongs to the Labour Party and many,many, activists would welcome him and others like him with open arms.

    @ Mike
    I would swap Charles Kennedy and Simon Hughes for Frank Field and Alan Milburn in a heartbeat.

    I agree with both statements. And if Charles Kennedy defected many other liberals and Lib Dem voters (not Orange Tories) would see him as the prince over the water, the consequences of which could have profound policy implications for the coalition.

  • @coldcomfort: Why do so many Lib Dems try to lionise old Labour? Half of your party tried to bury old Labour and much of the blame for New Labour rests with the SDP. New Labour joined you with your neoliberal economic stance and it was always the Blairites and Mandelsons that wanted a “realignment” with the Lib Dems in order to kill any last remnant of socialism or working class politics.

    It perplexes me no end when liberals attack New Labour for joining them on the economic right after decades of pushing them that way.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Aug '10 - 6:25pm

    “The blogosphere, and particularly the twittersphere at its very, very worst. BBC is reporting the fact that there are numerous reports on blogs/twitter as though that means anything.
    Several years back stuff like this wouldn’t have made it into the media without some (off the record) substantiation.”

    The curious thing is that this is currently the headline story in the “UK” section of the BBC website. Would the BBC really give such prominence to a completely unsubstantiated blog/twitter rumour?

  • Highly unlikely kenneedy would join labour, as civil liberties are a pretty central part of his political ideology.

  • Kehaar, what?
    You and your party might not care about civil liberties but kennedy, me and the lib dems do. We also care about social exclusion and labour’s abject failure to deal with it over 13 years of economic good times.

  • Oh dear!

  • The BBC website report has now been updated to inform us that Charles has sent Clegg an email in which he confirms that he is not going to defect. I think a clear and unequivocal statement would help.

    We’ve been here before. Remember Iain Dale continually recycling rumours that up to five Lib Dem MPs were about to defect to the Tories? Eventually, David Laws made a public statement and put a stop to it. The only Lib Dem MP who admits that he toyed with defecting to the Tories is Mark Oaten, who is both a free marketeer and socially authoritarian in some areas – not exactly a mainstream Liberal Democrat.

    Both the North American owned media and the Labour opposition will do everything in their power to destabilise us. They want us to be looking over our shoulders all the time worrying about who is or isn’t going to defect, rather than get on with the job of promoting our policies and values.

    To those who are considering jumping ship, I would say to them that if they do it will be all the more difficult for those of us who remain to get the party out of the “coalition”.

  • @Nigel , however much this has been got up by labour there is a very simple way for Kennedy to nail it.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Aug '10 - 12:42am

    “I will go out of this world feet first with my Lib Dem membership card in my pocket.”

    Yes, that sounds pretty unequivocal.

    Now all we need is a similar statement from Nick Clegg …

  • Paul McKeown 22nd Aug '10 - 3:18am

    What a load of nonsense – and the usual noise makers busy here, too. What a surprise!

  • Well, well as a life-long Labour voter I’ve seen it all before and I do a mixture of contempt, sympathy and anger for the Lib Dem and their deal with the Tories. Will Lib Dems defect they already are – fact, these defections would worry me more. As for the Parliamentary party the Orange book liberals have shown themselves to be the tories that we on the left always knew they were. When the social democratics defect all they will be doing is coming home, the circle will be completed. As a Scot, I know that the deal with the Tories was the death nell for the party in Scotland. I expect them to go the same way as the Tories in Scotland the election is maybe as near as next year I hope you can fit your party in a cab but if you can’t you can only blame yourselves.

    Every Lib Dem I meet is afraid…. they should be.

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