Gladstone would not be welcome in ‘anti-Christian’ Lib Dems, claims top Bishop

One of the most senior bishops in the Church of England has denounced the Liberal Democrats over the way that one of their candidates was deselected over his Christian faith.

The Bishop of Winchester Philip Mounstephen, is the fifth most senior Anglican cleric, tweeted his support for former award winning BBC journalist David Campanale who has been removed as the candidate for the Lib Dem target seat of Sutton and Cheam in south London.

It comes amid furious demands by local members that Mr Campanale is reinstated amid allegations that his replacement Luke Taylor, a local councillor, was one of the key figures involved in hounding him out.

The bishop noted that had 19th century liberal prime minister and political giant of the 19th century been in the modern version of the party he would no longer be welcome.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey launches his party’s General Election campaign battlebus (PA) (PA Wire)
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey launches his party’s General Election campaign battlebus (PA) (PA Wire)

Tweeting in support fo a petition calling for Mr Campanale to be reinstated, the bishop said: “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 and Cheam.”

It is understood that a second bishop has also signed the peition but has not yet gone public.

But the Lib Dems have dismissed the claims pointing out that all their London MPs including leader Sir Ed Davey are practising Christians. While an appeal is ongoing on the issue the party says it cannot provide details.

A spokesman 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."

However, the the assurances from party headquarters do not appear to have calmed concerns within the Lib Dems that an anti-Christian “secularist faction” is trying to push out practicising Christians.

Promotingh the GoCitizen petition Reinstate David Campanale -Election Candidate Deselected Because Of His Beliefs, Former Lib Dem chief whip now crossbench peer Lord Alton tweeted: “I have signed this petition against appalling treatment that is neither liberal nor democratic and hope others will do so too Ed Davey needs to reverse a shocking decision.”

Tim Farron’s Christian faith was considered to be a fator in why he was forced to resign as leader (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)
Tim Farron’s Christian faith was considered to be a fator in why he was forced to resign as leader (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)

The row has come up despite Sir Ed in 2020 insisting in that issues like abortion and euthanasia needed to remain “issues of conscience” and views based on religious belief needed to be strongly defended.

In a response to an open letter from John Mulholland, Davey also warned of a “growing intolerance within progressive, liberal parties the world over.”

But it has been noted that despite Mr Campanale being an officer in his Kingston constituency and the Sutton and Cheam seat neighbouring him, Sir Ed has not intervened to protect the former journalist.

Meanwhile, senior local party members in Sutton and Cheam have written demanding that Cllr Taylor, who came third to Mr Campanale in the original selection, is removed and Mr Campanale is reinstated. It is understood that Cllr Taylor sought to have Mr Campanale expelled from the party but withdrew his complaint.

This followed them seeing a submission on Mr Taylor’s alleged behavior by Mr Campanale submitted to the party during the ongoing disputes. In it Mr Campanale alleged that Cllr Taylor made clear his objections to his Christian faith and refused to campaign for him. He based his complaint on notes of conversations the two had and Whatsapp messages.

Last week a senior local party member wrote to the constituency party chairman Jason Stone asking for Mr Campanale to be reinstated.

The email said: “As we prepare this letter, we are seeing increasing numbers of comments and disclosures of what is going on in S&C in mainstream media - all of which plays right into the hands of opposition parties and has the potential to seriously damage LibDem election chances in S&C, Sutton, and the Federal Party.”

It went on: “These serious allegations, which were presented in detail on repeated occasions to various panels of the party, have yet to be fully and independently investigated. In addition, our own witnessed complaints and those of others...have not been formally assessed by the designated body of the party either.

“Given David Campanale's appeal to the English Appeals Panel (EAP) remains unresolved, Luke's appointment risks bringing the party into disrepute and undermines our commitment to equality and fairness. David followed the rules by appealing and if he wins, must be restored immediately as our candidate for the coming general election.

“In light of this, we strongly believe that Luke's selection as [candidate] is premature and inappropriate and risks our chances of winning back the seat on 4 July 2024. The evidence suggests that he has actively contributed to the campaign of religious discrimination against David and has demonstrated a level of prejudice and intolerance that is wholly incompatible with Liberal Democrat values.

“We are particularly concerned that, despite being aware of David's disclosures, you have allowed Luke's selection to proceed without ensuring that these allegations are properly addressed first, not least as other officers of the local party may also be implicated in what the Equality Advisory Support Service has assessed is ‘likely harassment’ and ‘possible victimisation’ of David, contrary to law. This failure to act risks compromising the integrity of our local party and damaging the reputation of the Liberal Democrats as a whole during this vital general election period.”

Cllr Taylor has declined to respond.

This is not the first time that the Lib Dems have faced allegation of discrimination against Christians.

In 2019, Rob Flello, a former Labour MP and committed Roman Catholic, was deselected as a candidate within 36 hours due to his socially conservative views.

Meanwhile, Tim Farron was forced to resign from his position as party leader following intense scrutiny over his faith.