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Deselected Lib Dem candidate sues party claiming discrimination because of Christian beliefs

14 June 2024

Petition calls on party to reinstate David Campanale to avoid ‘chilling message’

DAVID CAMPANALE

David Campanale

David Campanale

AN ANGLICAN layman who was deselected as a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate is suing the party under the Equality Act, claiming that he has been subject to discrimination because of his Christian beliefs.

A petition calling on the party to reinstate David Campanale — which warns that failure to do will send a “chilling message to Christians” — has been signed by the Bishops of Winchester and Guildford (Letters, 24 May and 31 May).

Mr Campanale, a former BBC investigative journalist who held a seat as a Liberal Democrat councillor from 1986 to 1994, was announced as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Sutton and Cheam in January 2022, having first been approved as a prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) in 2017. According to his legal claim, submitted last month, he was “almost immediately” the subject of complaints made by members of the local party, culminating in attempts to deselect him.

“These complaints were made because of his protected beliefs and the steps taken to deselect him were motivated primarily by animosity from local party members to his protected beliefs,” the legal claim states. Among the examples of discrimination referred to are a meeting at the home of the local party’s president, Lord Tope, at which Mr Campanale was “interrogated” by about 30 members and “mocked and abused in relation to his beliefs”. He was, the claim says, told not to campaign in certain wards, and was excluded from meetings and party literature.

The legal claim names as defendants the chairs of the party at the local, regional, and national levels. Mr Campanale raised at least 26 separate complaints about his treatment, the claim states, but the party “failed to act on any of his concerns and/or take his complaints of discrimination and victimisation seriously”.

He was deselected last August, and a new candidate, Luke Taylor, has since been selected. Mr Taylor is named in Mr Campanale’s claim as among those who led the deselection campaign. Information sent to local party members in advance of the deselection vote stated that Mr Campanale was “unable, or unwilling, to understand and address the concerns expressed to him”, and that concerns about him were “in no way related to his personal and religious beliefs” — a claim that Mr Campanale disputes.

The local party claimed that his full political history had not been “properly declared and scrutinised as part of the selection process”, and that there were concerns about his political positions. In 2022, the Liberal Democrats Standards Office dismissed all complaints about Mr Campanale, concluding that the evidence was “limited, lacks credibility and is unconvincing”.

Mr Campanale, who serves on the PCC of St John the Evangelist, Kingston upon Thames, and has previously been a director of Tearfund, first campaigned for the Liberal Democrats in 1982. He left the party in 1998 “for personal reasons” and later chaired the Christian People’s Alliance (CPA), which emerged from the cross-party Movement for Christian Democracy. In an article for the website Lib Dem Voice in 2022, he said that he had left the CPA almost a decade earlier, “when it was infiltrated by extremists. I fully repudiate the offensive and divisive campaigns the people using the name now pursue.”

He wrote: “It is also fair to say that like other politicians, my views have evolved. So Sutton party members heard me publicly state my support for the law on same-sex marriage. After all, I stood on our 2019 General Election manifesto.”

Among the “protected beliefs” referred to in his legal claim are the belief that “marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman,” and that “abortion is wrong.” The claim states that Mr Campanale has “never hidden his faith or religious beliefs”, and that he declared all past political affiliations before his selection. In an interview with the Christian Institute in 2022, he said that, during the selection process, members had failed to use the hustings to ask questions about his beliefs.

Mr Campanale appealed against his deselection on the grounds that the process had not been run correctly, and that his treatment amounted to discrimination. In March, a panel of the English Candidates Committee rejected the appeal, finding “no evidence of such discriminatory conduct” by the local party. Mr Campanale has now appealed against this decision to the English Appeals Panel.

In 2022, the Government’s Equality Advisory and Support Service said that it was “likely” that Mr Campanale had been “subject to harassment and potential victimisation”. Evidence was then passed to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, with whom a number of complaints about Mr Campanale’s treatment have been lodged by both individual party members and the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, which has also complained to the party’s Federal President. A letter to the EHRC seen by the Daily Telegraph warns that “evidence depicts a supposedly liberal organisation allowing clear religious discrimination and hostility to thrive within its ranks”.

In 2023, a panel of the English Candidates Committee rejected an application to have Mr Campanale removed from the approved candidates list, and noted an “illiberal attitude towards Mr Campanale’s socially conservative faith”. The ECC is chaired by the Revd Margaret Joachim, a C of E priest with PTO in London.

On Wednesday, a party spokesperson said: “The Liberal Democrat Leader and all of our London MPs are church-going Christians, and this complex case about David Campanale, which began during Covid, resulted in him being deselected and the local party overwhelmingly voting for a new candidate.”

More than 20,000 people have now signed a petition calling for Mr Campanale’s reinstatement, which describes him as “a Christian who actually believes in biblical teaching — a seemingly unforgivable sin for the Lib Dems.”

Among the signatories is the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson.

”I have something of a brief for freedom of religion and belief in the House of Lords, and am concerned that we don’t inadvertently drift into a society which discriminates against very able and compassionate people on the basis of their sincerely-held Christian convictions,” he said on Wednesday. “The decision to deselect David, together with the hostile questioning to which he’s been subjected, seems to me a case in point. Much the same happened to Kate Forbes and the SNP, which makes me feel that it could be the beginning of a trend, which needs calling out.”

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, wrote on the social media site X earlier this month: “The deselection of David Campanale on the grounds of his beliefs alone is shockingly illiberal. On this basis Gladstone wouldn’t have been allowed to stand in Sutton & Cheam.”

The case follows that of Tim Farron, who resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2017, saying that it was impossible for him to reconcile his position with being a “faithful Christian” (News, 16 June 2017). In 2019, Rob Flello, a Roman Catholic, was deselected as the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Stoke-on-Trent South (News, 29 November 2019). A party statement said that it had become clear “how greatly his values diverge from ours”.

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