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Coronavirus: Corbyn warns next Labour leader not to join unity government with Tories

Jeremy Corbyn has warned his successor as Labour leader not to get into a government of national unity with Conservatives to help fight the coronavirus.

The outgoing leader, who is expected to be replaced by Keir Starmer on Saturday, said that giving up the responsibility to oppose and challenge the government would be “a negation of what our democratic society is about”

His comments came as former Conservative leader William Hague said it would be “constitutionally correct” for prime minister Boris Johnson to brief the new Labour leader directly on the government’s strategy, suggesting that this would help relieve pressure on ministers from the opposition.

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“Really the leader of the opposition is owed explanations from the government about what they’re doing,” Lord Hague told The Times.

“You probably want the leader of the opposition to have a good understanding of what the bottlenecks are and what the difficulties are. Otherwise he’s going to be putting you under pressure to do things that you can’t do. So it’s in the government’s interest as well as in democracy’s interest for that sort of meeting and discussion to take place.”

But asked whether Labour should be offering its support to the government to help the country get through the coronavirus crisis, Mr Corbyn told the Daily Telegraph’s Chopper’s Podcast: ”It’s the duty of opposition parties to hold it up into account and that is exactly what we’re doing.

Mr Corbyn has said that Labour would have moved faster to ramp up Covid-19 testing if he had been in power.

“I think we should be challenging the government and challenging them on the economic response, challenging them on job security, and that is the way to get better government and better decisions,” he said.

“If everybody got together and said ‘we’re all absolutely in this together; we won’t criticise each other’ – that is a negation of what our democratic society is about.”

But leadership contender Lisa Nandy repeated her call for a “national Cobra” emergency committee, in which government ministers would be joined by representatives of opposition parties and devolved governments, and said that Labour should be offering ideas on how to defeat the virus.

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Asked if Downing Street should be offering direct briefings to Labour, Ms Nandy told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think that’s absolutely right. I actually think we should formalise that arrangement, and that the government should set up a national Cobra, which involves the opposition, as well as leaders in Scotland and Wales who have also been invited to attend on an ad hoc basis.

“We need to work together to get the country through this crisis. We need to understand the strategy so that we can give the public confidence.

“But we also need to be able to input into that strategy. We saw it with issues early on like sick pay, which Matt Hancock said hadn’t been thought about initially but were obviously really, really important if we’re going to be able to give people the ability to follow the guidance.”

As Corbyn prepared to step down after five years at the helm, his wife Laura Alvarez broke her long-standing silence to voice her pride in her husband and declare she would “never regret our dream of a better quality of life for everybody”.

Writing in the Daily Mirror, Ms Alvarez took aim at Mr Corbyn’s opponents inside the Labour Party and urged his supporters to keep up their fight for the values he represents.

“It has been hard for me to watch my husband vilified and hear his words twisted by his political opponents,” she said. “It has been harder to watch him attacked by his party.

“I want to thank those who voted for Labour, and especially those who stood with my husband.

“We know you shared our values. If equality, humanity, honesty and kindness are called Corbynism, then that’s all right with me.

With Starmer thought likely to sideline the hard left if he defeats “continuity Corbyn” candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey as expected on Saturday, Ms Alvarez sent a defiant message to her husband’s supporters not to abandon his cause.

“I will never regret our dream of a better quality of life for everybody,” she said.

“It is now up to our movement to ensure it does not remain a dream.”

Mr Corbyn himself indicated he may resume his role as a backbench rebel under the new leadership, saying: “It depends what the votes are and what the issues are – I always believe in being true to oneself.”

He added: “I will be doing my best to encourage others to be active and to stand up for all the causes that I believe so passionately in.”

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