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Alistair Campbell criticises Keir Starmer for not attacking government's handling of coronavirus outbreak

Alistair Campbell says Labour should 'show no mercy'

3 min read

Alistair Campbell has accused Keir Starmer of being too soft in his approach to holding the Government to account over its handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Tony Blair's former spin doctor said Labour should "show no mercy" in exposing mistakes made by ministers in areas such as testing and the availability of personal protective equipment.

His comments echo those of some on the left of the Labour Party, who have also hit out at Sir Keir's approach.

When he was elected Jeremy Corbyn's successor earlier this month, the Labour boss vowed to work constructively with the Government over Covid-19 rather than provide "opposition for opposition's sake".

But writing in The Guardian, Mr Campbell said it was time for Sir Keir to take the gloves off.

He said: "From my years in opposition working with Blair I remember that, even at the time of the Dunblane school massacre, as sensitive a time as could be imagined, Labour had a different approach on the issue of firearms, and pressed it, sensitively.

"And in government, when Blair and Brown faced crises – foot-and-mouth, fuel protests, times of war – the Tories were never backward in coming forward to attack, so Labour should not fall for the current line from the right that their role is to support the government.

"In his leadership acceptance speech, Starmer set a sensible tone – supportive of government objectives, but questioning and scrutinising in a reasonable manner.

"Yet when so many are dying, so many targets are unmet, so many NHS and care workers are going to work unprotected, and so many mistakes have been made, Labour should frankly show no mercy on issues such as PPE and testing."

Attacking Labour's overall approach, Mr Campbell added: "It has been noticeable how rarely, at government briefings and interviews, questions have been framed by things Labour has said or done; that must change.

"Labour needs to be thinktank, policy expert, advocate for real people in difficulty, and campaign organiser all in one. Backbenchers too are vital in this. There are so many causes and campaigns arising from this crisis.

"Up till now, No 10 briefings, at which both government presentation and media questioning have generally been poor, have provided the main focus for questioning ministers. Now that parliament is back, albeit in a highly unusual form, Labour has the chance to show it can do a better job of holding the Government to account than the media; and a better job than the Government in showing what needs to be done, and how."

Last Sunday, former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also hit out at Sir Keir when he tweeted: "It’s not opposition for opposition’s sake to call out Gvt’s failure to pursue effective test & track programme & supply basic protection to front line staff & to neglect support for care homes & care workers. People are dying as a result.” 

And former Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon, who was sacked by Sir Keir in his first reshuffle, has said: "Of course, where the Government does the right thing, it is quite right that we work with it constructively.

"But it is even more essential that we apply maximum pressure when it is failing – as it is on so many fronts – to do what is needed. Lives literally depend on it."

Mr Campbell's attack came as Sir Keir prepared for his first Prime Minister's Questions as opposition leader.


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