Who is David Campanale?
|David Campanale (Photo: Mark Pack)|
I ask this question because I honestly don't know.
The first I heard of him was about 20 minutes ago, when a Lib Dem friend sent a message asking why the party has selected a homophobe as a PPC. My friend shared a link to twitter, where I discovered that a Labour activist has uncovered some history on Mr Campanale, who has today been confirmed as the new Liberal Democrat PPC for the target seat of Sutton and Cheam.
I say "uncovered", but it is basically little more than the findings of a quick Google search. Some of what the Labour activist in question has alleged is quite speculative and I would dismiss it as being pretty desperate. However, there are specific and verifiable facts that raise questions to which I believe answers are needed.
The official press release from the Sutton and Cheam Liberal Democrats and Mark Pack's blog are keen to emphasise Mr Campanale's extensive journalistic experience with BBC World Service and his charitable work. They even mention that he won a council seat in Kingston at the age of 22, although it is not clear exactly when this was or which party he was standing for at the time. The strangest thing about these contributions is that they say very little about Mr Campanale's political activities other then the mention of a council victory which, judging by the fact he has 30 years of journalistic experience, may well have taken place three decades ago.
In the internet age, if Liberal Democrats don't look into their candidates' histories then supporters of other parties - or, indeed, anyone with the presence of mind to ask some questions and the knowledge of how to conduct a Google search - will. And that's exactly what has happened. Within minutes of the announcement a Labour activist had already taken to twitter to point out that Mr Campanale had previously served as chairman and as federal president of the Christian People's Alliance, and was happy to produce evidence of the kind of policies the CPA supported during his oversight of the party.
What can be found in a few minutes is that David Campanale stood for the CPA in the 2006 and 2010 local elections, for elections to the Greater London Authority in 2008 and was instrumental in recruiting candidates for the 2010 General Election. During that time the CPA actively campaigned against the legal right for abortion, against same-sex marriage and against the building of a new mosque in West Ham. The CPA, unsurprisingly, favoured a return to "Christian morality". In 2010 it accused Barack Obama of "anti-life imperialism" on account of his pro-choice stance, while its manifesto of the same year talked of fighting "the LGBT lobby" and expressed opposition to "limiting the freedom of doctors not to execute abortions". The same manifesto stated the CPA would "seek to repeal the 1967 Abortion Act" and that the party would attempt to bring "an end... to the use of the morning after pill." These were the views of his party rather than his own, but Mr Campanale was listed within the acknowledgements of David Alton's 1998 anti-abortion work, Whose choice is it anyway? and it would seem strange if someone so senior within the CPA disagreed with much in its manifesto.
Mr Campanale's membership of the CPA can hardly be dismissed as a brief dalliance - after all, he was on the leadership team when the party was making these statements and compiling the manifesto. Basically, the CPA was taking up these kinds of extreme positions on his watch.according to Wikipedia, a founder member of the CPA. He had previously been active within the Movement for Christian Democracy (founded by David Alton, Derek Enright and Ken Hargreaves) and, in 1999, the CPA emerged from the MCD as a fully-fledged political party with Dr Alan Storkey as chairman and Mr Campanale serving as vice chair. He was certainly an active CPA member in 2003, when he published a letter in a local newspaper condemning the Lib Dems' policy on church schools, and remained a leading figure until at least 2011, when he was Paul Pickhaver's agent in the Surbiton Hill by-election. The CPA's return to the Electoral Commission in 2012 confirms Mr Campanale as federal president and a facebook post (right) shows he was present at the CPA's annual conference in that year. He is pictured with Dr Christina Summers, who was expelled from the Green Party after opposing same-sex marriage. In his facebook post, Mr Campanale is keen to claim that she was expelled "for her Christian beliefs", rather than (as the Green party maintained) for violating an agreement for councillors to uphold "equality for all people, regardless of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social origin or any other prejudice".
The CPA's accounts for 2014, submitted to the Electoral Commission, confirm that Mr Campanale was a member of the party's federal council until November of that year. It is difficult to follow the course of Mr Campanale's political journey thereafter. From speaking to Lib Dems who know him it seems reasonable to believe he was readmitted around 2017, but I have been unable to clarify that. By 2019, when he was the Lib Dem PPC for Spelthorne, he had clearly made a decision not to mention his previous political affiliations. On the Spelthorne local party's official website, Mr Campanale made no mention of any political activity other than the historic election as a Kingston councillor (he helpfully clarifies he represented the Lib Dems for an 8-year period*) - confirming that that he has returned to the party after several years with the CPA. However, to read his statement without knowledge of his activities within the CPA, one would think he had been in the Lib Dems for his entire political career.
I have no problem with prodigal sons returning. I have no problem with people changing their affiliations and even their minds. People can - and often do - change. But when someone has represented a party like the CPA, whose views are the very antithesis of our own, that history cannot simply be whitewashed from CVs. I do not know how much the Liberal Democrats knew about Mr Campanale's previous political activities - but I will suggest that they should have been aware of them and that they should have sought clarifications about his current views on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and Islam. They should also have advised him to be very honest about his historical political affiliations and explain uncomfortable facts rather than seek to hide them.
For a PPC in a non-target seat such as Spelthorne this may not have mattered. Sutton and Cheam is a very different constituency, however, and was held by Lib Dem Paul Burstow until 2015: it is precisely the kind of seat we need to win back to rebuild the party as a parliamentary force. And for that reason the party needs a candidate who can be seen as having credibility and integrity. The danger here is that, unless Mr Campanale answers the very obvious questions soon (and convincigly) his associations with the CPA may very well come back to haunt him and damage the party's chances of unseating Paul Scully.
This could potentially become a "Tim Farron situation" if Mr Campanale is either unable, or refuses, to clarify where he stands in relation to the kinds of "moral issues" he once preached about with such relish.
I do not know how much the local Liberal Democrats in Sutton and Cheam, who have selected him as their PPC, knew about his former life. Neither do I know what he revealed during the selection process. But what is clear is that all official statements have been keen to not only play down his links to the CPA, but eradicate any mention of it. That's not a good look when, as I pointed out above, political opponents know how to use search engines. He would have been better advised to be honest about his former political activity and, with support from the party, to prepare responses for the inevitable media questioning to avoid a PR disaster further down the line.
I do not know David Campanale.It's very difficult to know who the real David Campanale is, not least as his twitter account was only created in 2019, has hardly been used in the last two years and has only 377 followers. He has not responded to any concerns expressed on that platform about his time in the CPA and nowhere does he appear to have ever addressed this, or given reasons for his change of heart. He hasn't even said he has had a change of heart as far as abortion and same-sex marriage are concerned...
|David Campanale "defending Christian values" against|
"secular liberalism" in Hungary, 2019.
Mr Campanale attended the Tusványos summer camp in 2019, where he appears to have used a platform to "defend Christian values in Europe and the Western world" against "secular liberalism [that] threatens Europe because it cannot understand itself without reference to Christianity". This was while he was both a BBC journalist and a member of the Liberal Democrats. While Mr Campanale was not responsible for the observations made within the Christendom College article I link to above, the writer (Prof Bracy Bersnak, pictured on the far left) seems to suggest the panel members were broadly united in their anti-secular views and that they held sympathies for Hungary's Fidesz and Poland's PiS party. Prof Bersnak's general observation was corroborated by the KDNP website, which stated "The interlocutors agreed that the greatest challenge to the Christian world is not the 'clash of civilizations' in the Huntington sense, but the violent ideological, political, and economic spread of global liberalism." As if that wasn't sufficiently disturbing, in the image (above, right) Mr Campanale is shown seated next to Hajnalka Juhász, a Fidesz-KDNP MP. Is this the sort of company we expect would-be Lib Dem MPs to keep?
Mr Campanale's historic associations with the event do not particularly worry me even if I don't fully understand why he has continued to be involved since the Fidesz takeover, which undermined the original (and laudable) aims to develop links with Romania. However. it is concerning that 2019 is not the first time he has expressed anti-secular views at Tusványos: in 2017 this Hungarian article in Vajma, which I've been able to read in English thanks to Google Translate, reported: "During the podium discussion, British journalist David Campanale expressed his passion for giving hope to Europe as a whole, for Hungary clinging to faith, for God and the example of Poland." I'm not too sure many other Lib Dem PPCs will be praising the example of Poland at present.
|David Campanale (front row, left) pictured with|
Viktor Orbán (front, fifth from left) and Tusványos personnel.
I do not know who David Campanale is, but it is quite clear who he once was. Unless he stands up, explains his past and distances himself from it, and makes assurances that his current views are very different from the policies he was happy to stand for election under between 2006 and 2010, the media and the public will be asking very pertinent questions about his commitment to liberal democracy. At the very least we need a comprehensive statement from him distancing himself from the values and attitudes he once espoused. An apology wouldn't go amiss either.
Please, Mr Campanale, if you want to be the next Liberal Democrat MP for Sutton and Cheam, be honest enough to talk about (and take responsibility for) your past, apologise to anyone you may have hurt and reassure members that you're on their side. We don't want any further unnecessary focus on unorthodox candidates' views on abortion or LGBT+ rights, let alone the suggestion of sympathies for authoritarian regimes.
* A Liberal Democrat member has confirmed that Mr Campanale was first elected to Hook Ward in Kingston in 1986.
There has been a lot of interest in this blogpost - over 3,500 hits within the first 24 hours.
There has also been a lot of discussion about it on social media, and inevitably there have been some calls for me to "substantiate my allegations".
I make no allegations. I have written about what we currently know from what is already in the public domain, and I also stress that there is much we do not know at this time. I will not apologise for seeking answers or explaining why I believe Mr Campanale (and, potentially, also the party) must answer some serious questions.
But I think it will be helpful if I outline the facts we can be reasonably sure of:
* In 1982 David Campanale, then aged 18, joined the new Social Democratic Party. He may well have been a founder member
* He fought his first council election in 1986, standing for the SDP/Alliance in Hook Ward. He won, aged only 22, and was re-elected in 1990.
* The SDP merged with the Liberal Party in 1989, and the young David Campanale became a member of the Liberal Democrats.
* In 1989, Mr Campanale established Tusványos with help from Zsolt Németh (now a Fidesz MP), Tibor Toró and Zsolt Szilágyi.
* In either 1998 or 1999 Mr Campanale left the Lib Dems. Various sources suggest he founded the Christian People's Alliance (CPA), meaning he would have been involved with the CPA from its inception in 1999.
* Mr Campanale held various leadership roles within the CPA until 2012/13. He was a candidate at local and national level in various elections. He served as an agent for others. He was also the party's chairman and federal president.
* During the time Mr Campanale was a prominent figure within the CPA, his party
a) supported "traditional marriage",
b) opposed the reclassification of cannabis,
c) favoured building more church schools,
d) opposed same-sex marriage and campaigned against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013,
e) proposed repealing the Abortion Act 1967, essentially making abortions illegal,
f) advocated ending availability of the morning after pill,
g) proudly talked of fighting "the LGBT lobby",
h) called Barack Obama an "anti-life imperialist" on account of his pro-choice views.
* Mr Campanale attended the CPA's annual conference in 2012. The CPA's accounts for 2014 list Mr Campanale as a member of the federal council until October 2014. After 15 years with the party, he disappears from the record after this point.
* In early 2017 he rejoined the Liberal Democrats. By the end of the year he had become the local organiser for the 2018 local elections in an area that included his old ward.
* In 2018 he was a key organiser for Kingston Lib Dems, and helped run a successful campaign. He was later appointed vice chair of the Kingston Liberal Democrats, according to a selection video in which he introduces himself as such.
* By 2019 Mr Campanale had become an approved candidate and contested Spelthorne constituency in the General Election - taking a respectable 15.1% of the vote. A few months before the election he attended the Tusványos event in Hungary, where he spoke against "secular liberalism" on a panel that included a Fidesz-KDNP MP and was photographed with Viktor Orbán.
* In late 2021 Mr Campanale was shortlisted for the Sutton and Cheam constituency. On 8th January 2022 it was confirmed that he had secured the Lib Dem candidacy for the constituency.
* Mr Campanale has worked for BBC World Service and was an assistant producer of Radio 4's Today in Parliament. He also served as a regional director of TearFund. I cannot be precise in relation to the dates of employments and charitable work.
Mr Campanale has written a piece for Lib Dem Voice in which he seeks to explain his political journey.
It can be read here: https://www.libdemvoice.org/focus-on-tories-in-sutton-and-cheam-69599.html
There is one correction I'd like to make to his contribution. In his article, Mr Campanale states: "I quit the CPA almost a decade ago when it was infiltrated by extremists. I fully repudiate the offensive and divisive campaigns the people using the name now pursue."
a) it shows that, far from leaving under the new "extreme" leadership, Mr Campanale served under it for 2 1/2 years, and
b) Mr Campanale was active within the party when it was opposing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.
The writer Ethan Gutmann has posted something on facebook and for reasons of fairness it should probably be copied here: https://www.facebook.com/ethan.gutmann/posts/10160093408173179
Aside from the obvious disrespect Mr Gutmann shows to people "yammering on twitter" or "the barking dogs of Twitter who would never ever dare to stand up and speak like [he did]" (in fairness, Mr Gutmann has no idea what any of us have done or said on public platforms) it is interesting because he provides a first-hand account of Mr Campanale's speech at Tusványos in 2019.
He says Mr Campanale "suddenly, without any warning, turned on the conference, declaring that these Christian values, so precious to him, to them, to all, were absolutely incompatible with the fear and loathing of the foreigner, the black, the brown, the refugee, the travelling stranger, even perhaps, the Jew Soros."
He doesn't provide any verbatim quotes but if that's true then I'll happily congratulate Mr Campanale on the content of that intervention. I can only say I wish I'd been there to hear it.
Mr Gutmann surely understands that any information anyone (other than the panelists and the reported 50 people gathered to listen) have on the event is what is reported afterwards and is available online. Two of Mr Campanale's panel members (Prof Bracy Bersnak, in his personal account, and Hajnalka Juhász on the KDNP website), state that he was in agreement with them on the dangers of secular democracy. What are we supposed to think? I would say that if they have wilfully lied and given false impressions about Mr Campanale's contribution then, while that kind of dishonesty is unacceptable, it shows the nature of who Mr Campanale is (arguably naively) dealing with at Tusványos. Why debate and challenge people who then claim that you agreed with them all along? For me, if what Ethan Gutmann says is true, then it underlines that Prof Bersnak and Ms Juhász are so untrustworthy that they're not good people to share a panel with. Or to be SEEN sharing a panel with.
A speech can hardly be - as Mr Gutmann suggests - someone's "finest moment" if that speech is misrepresented and framed as an agreement with the people being spoken out against.
It's difficult to know what Mr Campanale actually said. Sometimes differing accounts of the same event can be easily harmonised, but not here: either Mr Gutmann is correct or Prof Bersnak and the KDNP report are. Someone is clearly lying, and I am not able to determine which of them it is. I'd like to believe Mr Gutmann's story but, while I would hardly be surrpised at the KDNP being less than honest, I don't see why Prof Bersnak would need to lie. I don't share his perspectives but, as he is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Economics at an American institution, I don't see why he would need to be dishonest about Mr Campanale's contribution. He has no overtly political agenda. So what actually happened is as clear has mud and seems to be a question of which narrative we choose to believe. Personally, I don't want to accuse either a Professor of Political Science or a Senior Research Fellow in China Studies of lying, but it's clear their accounts don't tally: either Mr Campanale was in agreement with his fellow panellists or else he used the platform to boldly express an opposite view.
If Mr Gutmann is correct, perhaps he should turn his ire on those who deliberately report falsehoods rather than those who have to make sense of situations with only these reports as evidence. Perhaps he should also understand that most of us he dismisses as "yammering on twitter" are actually party members seeking to settle uncomfortable questions, so that we feel sufficiently reassured that we can go out and campaign for Mr Campanale. Seeking to understand people, rather than dismissing them, would be a much better approach here.
Even if we uncritically accept Mr Gutmann's version of events (which is perfectly plausible), there remain questions about what Mr Campanale has said at Tusványos in previous years - in both 2016 and 2017 he is reported by Hungarian language websites as having been critical of "secular liberalism". Whatever he said in 2019, it's also reasonable to wish to get clarification from Mr Campanale on these previous contributions - and, indeed, his wider views on secular liberalism. I do not apologise for seeking answers, especially when the optics are so terrible.
(Apologies for the multiple updates, but it only seems fair to Mr Campanale that I should post evidence I've gained later, especially if it may show him in a positive light.)