Alastair Campbell said: "That is a shock!! I never knew I had been appointed in the first place"BBC Newsnight/YouTube

The Cambridge University Labour Club (CULC) has been accused of overriding its constitution and internal democracy mechanisms in removing Alastair Campbell, a former spokesperson for ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, as its honorary vice-president.

Students and alumni who have previously been actively involved in CULC have spoken out against the executive not consulting with the Club’s wider membership.

The most recent version of CULC’s Constitution states that the honorary posts exist “to improve the Club’s external and political relationships” and “Honorary Officers may be elected by CULC members in a secret ballot” at a Termly General Meeting. Varsity understands that this vote did not occur at the Lent General Meeting, while the Easter meeting has not yet taken place.

In a statement released yesterday, the club announced that following a unanimous decision by the executive committee it would be replacing Alastair Campbell with three new honorary presidents.

The statement justified his removal on the grounds that “Campbell’s central role as Tony Blair’s chief strategist in the invasion and occupation of Iraq should rule him out of any serious role or prominence in public life.” It also highlighted its “rejection of [Campbell’s] disgraceful attempt to rehabilitate himself as a legitimate political figure through the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign” and that he should “stand trial at the Hague alongside his old boss”.

In Campbell’s place, CULC said that it has appointed Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott MP as honorary president, along with Iraqi journalist Muntadhar Al-Zaidi who was jailed for throwing his shoes at President George W. Bush during a press conference in 2008, and Marielle Franco, a Brazilian feminist and socialist politician who was murdered in March 2018.

Campbell reacted to his removal on Twitter, writing: “That is a shock!! I never knew I had been appointed in the first place ... but I hope the shoe chucker feels honoured”.

There is also confusion surrounding who had previously held the role of honorary president. Despite yesterday announcing Diane Abbott as one of its new honorary presidents, a CULC spokesperson has since told Varsity she had been appointed to the position in Lent 2016.

Diane Abbott studied at Newnham College and became Britain's first black female MP in 1987.Wikimedia Commons

The spokesperson clarified that at the time the statement was released they were unaware that Abbott was already honorary president as they “were given no information on this by the outgoing committee”.

Multiple former senior CULC members and members of the current executive committee gave contradicting information on who the previous holders of honorary presidential positions have been in recent years.

Since the release of yesterday’s statement a number of former CULC members have spoken to Varsity about what they perceive to be the executive committee’s disregard for the club’s democracy in the process of appointing the three new presidents.

Ashley Walsh, who was Chair of CULC from 2010-11 and introduced the position of honorary president, expressed concern regarding the allegedly unconstitutional process by which these changes were made. Such appointments to honorary roles, he noted, must be “decided democratically at Termly or Annual General Meetings, not unilaterally by the Executive Committee.

It’s a little rich for those on the left of the party, who are always the first to preach from the gospel of party democracy at the rest of us, to ignore it when it suits them.

“The Labour Club should care about helping to improve the lives of the students and residents of Cambridge by campaigning about the issues they care about, rather than engaging in pointless, juvenile flag-waving about international revolution.”

One CULC member said that some students “have expressed concern about how the tone of the post reflects on the club”.

In response a spokesperson for CULC said: “International solidarity is at the core of the labour movement,” and that “our party’s ideas, when implemented, will empower the working people of this city.”

“But the degree of our success here depends, critically, upon the scale and strength of the international movement behind socialism. Solidarity means that the solutions to the problems of those we meet canvassing in Cambridge are inextricable from the fate and freedom of our friends elsewhere; be they Palestinian refugees or those in Rio’s favelas fighting for the legacy of Marielle Franco.”

CULC did not respond to specific queries concerning why the new honorary officers were not voted in by CULC members. A spokesperson said: “Records of past appointments to honorary positions were not made available to the current executive by the former committee. Because of this, we have had to consult with previous chairs, going back to 2014.”

One of last term’s co-chairs told Varsity that they themselves did not have access to records of previous honorary presidents, and did not purposely withhold this information from the Easter executive.

It was assumed by some yesterday that Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Baroness Patricia Scotland, former Attorney General for England and Wales and the first black woman to be appointed Queen's Counsel, had been replaced in their roles by CULC without comment, as there are only provisions for three honorary officers. “In our consultations with former chairs we were unable to establish when exactly Burnham and Scotland were appointed, in the absence of live policy their status as honorary vice-presidents is for the time being ambiguous,” CULC stated.

The CULC spokesperson elaborated that: “We can thus affirm the constitutionality of Diane Abbott’s honorary status, and of Campbell’s removal. Now that we have a fuller picture of how the other positions were allocated, we can initiate the process of democratically codifying the appointment of remaining positions and deciding on their exact nature. There is at present no constitutional provision for multiple honorary presidents.”

Another former member of the executive committee, Holly Higgins, discussed how the decision might reflect upon CULC’s principles: “If you run an organisation which talks a lot about the importance of democratic principles – if you fly in the face of that by not following your own constitution – then that is a major problem.”

Higgins echoed Walsh’s concern regarding what he perceived to be a drop in the club’s activity within the local community: “For me, the most important issue is that there are loads of residents in Cambridge struggling to get by because of Tory cuts and austerity, and loads of Cambridge councillors working on that – [CULC] should be helping.”


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One CULC member speculated that “I think they’re just kind of doing whatever they like at this point, without really considering whether it’ll annoy people or overrides the constitution.”

A CULC spokesperson said to Varsity that: “Marielle Franco is the most significant of all our appointments. She stood fearlessly with the oppressed, facing down racist state violence in Rio’s favelas, and defended the rights of women and queer people. For this she was brutally murdered. We evoke her name and appoint her to this position to help keep her spirit of struggle alive, more important than ever with fascism on the rise globally. Marielle, Presente!”

The constitution states that “Honorary Officers must be members of the Labour Party who have been prominent in the politics of the United Kingdom, its constituent parts, or of international organisations of which the United Kingdom is a member.” It is not known whether either Franco or Al-Zaidi have held Labour Party membership.

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