David Campanale, the Lib Dem candidate ‘punished’ for his faith

David Campanale's relationship with the Liberal Democrats stretches back more than 30 years
David Campanale's relationship with the Liberal Democrats stretches back more than 30 years

He had hoped to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Tim Farron and Charles Kennedy, both Christians who became Liberal Democrat MPs and eventually led the party.

But it was not to be for David Campanale, after he was deselected from the plum seat of Sutton and Cheam following a two-year campaign against him by activists and local party members.

Mr Campanale, 60, worked as a journalist at the BBC for more than 30 years, winning awards for his work on such stories as exposing the treatment of Uygur women in camps in China, but his relationship with the Liberal Democrats stretches even further back.

He began canvassing for the party while a student at Oxford University. He helped campaign for Vince Cable, who later went on to become party leader, in the early 1980s and was first selected as an SDP-Liberal councillor at the age of 22.

Mr Campanale, an Anglican, later became a member of the Christian People’s Alliance (CPA) for around a decade.

While a Lib Dem councillor in his twenties, he was a member of Liberal International, which saw him work with groups opposing communism in countries such as Russia, Romania and Ukraine.

He left the party in 2012, later claiming that it had been “infiltrated by extremists” and that he “fully [repudiated] the offensive and divisive campaigns the people using the name now pursue”.

Outside of politics, Mr Campanale has pursued a significant amount of charity work, inspired by his faith.

He served as a director of Tearfund, a Christian charity that works with churches in over 50 of the world’s poorest countries to “tackle poverty and injustice through sustainable development.”

While working for the BBC, Mr Campanale was a prominent trade union representative within the National Union of Journalists, known to regularly challenge the broadcaster over employment issues.

A fellow union member described Mr Campanale as a “dogged” campaigner for fellow employees, including advocating for one colleague suffering from PTSD after reporting from a war zone.

They added that he had been unafraid to stand up against both the BBC and indeed the union leadership if he disagreed with their approach.

Other major news he helped to break with the BBC included the first English language televised interview with Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy.

It was the Brexit vote that eventually led Mr Campanale back to the Lib Dems as he did not approve of the result.

He spent eight years as a party councillor in Kingston, becoming vice-chairman of the constituency association of Sir Ed Davey, the party leader.

During that time, he helped to bring a new Church of England secondary school to the borough, which is expected to open within the next three years.

It was the Brexit vote that led Mr Campanale back to the Lib Dems as he did not approve of the result

Mr Campanale went on to run against Kwasi Kwarteng, the former Tory chancellor, in the seat of Spelthorne in 2019 – his campaign helped by his twin brother Mark and older brother Anthony.

He managed to treble the Lib Dem vote in the constituency, despite still losing out to the Tories.

He later quit the BBC in order to focus on his political career, just ahead of being announced as the Lib Dem candidate for Sutton and Cheam at the upcoming election.

But he soon came under fire from local party members, with an activist at one meeting asking if he felt he was being persecuted “like Jesus”, while at another a local party official allegedly told him: “We had no idea we were selecting another Tim Farron.”

His historic ties to the CPA were cited among the objections to Mr Campanale’s candidacy, along with claims that he had not been sufficiently open about his faith during the selection process – a charge that he denies.

He has since been deselected from the seat, though an appeal against the decision is currently under way.

The saga will overshadow an important contest for the Liberal Democrats, in a Blue Wall constituency that they will be keen to win.