On Britain’s bloody day of shame, Rishi makes his best speech yet

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak apologises with no ifs and buts - House of Commons / UK Parliament/PA

The infected blood scandal was Britain’s Chernobyl, though considerably more people died. Thousands of those touched by this injustice gathered at Westminster Central Hall to hear Sir Brian Langstaff’s report, sporting the campaign colours of yellow, black and red or T-shirts that declared: “Dying for Justice.”

One read: “Today is for Dad.”

They gave Sir Brian a standing ovation. He urged them to applaud themselves. Authoritative, elegant and bathed in an eerie red light, Sir Brian reminded us how we got here – how doctors gave blood to patients, some of them children, infected with hepatitis and Aids.

“Over 3,000 have already died,” he said, “and that number is climbing week after week.”

The error was covered up. Civil servants refused to acknowledge blame. “I fully expect the Government to make an apology,” he said, but for it to be “meaningful” it must be followed by action.

Sir Brian Langstaff
Sir Brian Langstaff received a standing ovation from campaigners - Tracey Croggon / Infected Blood Inquiry/PA

As he stepped off the stage to tears and applause, one might have whispered to the Prime Minister: follow that.

In fact, he did so rather well. Addressing the House, conscious that the victims’ families had crossed the road to pack the balconies and watch, Rishi Sunak called this a “day of shame for the British state”. No ifs, no buts; there was a “cover-up” he admitted, and the Government must offer redress. It was the best speech I’ve ever seen him give, matched almost by Keir Starmer, who told the survivors: “Politics has failed you.”

For some MPs, of course, politics never stops. David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, and Alicia Kearns, the foreign committee chairwoman, were on their phones much of the time. I guess the Middle East crisis won’t solve itself. And Stephen Flynn of the SNP evidently thought this was an appropriate moment to take a pop at the Union: he told MPs that the affair showed “the very worst of Westminster.”

His colleague Pete Wishart followed with a point of order complaining that the statement was too short. He was shot down by a furious Lindsay Hoyle, who reminded him that it had been choreographed to allow the victims a chance to attend. “It’s their day and that’s why it’s been done in this way, and I’m sure you will wish to respect that.”

Dream on. We had just witnessed the very worst of the SNP.

Ken Clarke’s name was mud

Back at Westminster Hall, Ken Clarke’s name was mud. The granddaddy of centrists, the only socially acceptable Tory, was described by one campaigner as “patronising in the extreme”; his performance at the inquiry emblematic, one infers, of the superior attitude that enabled this unimaginable horror.

On a vast screen, we watched images of the deceased and heard the voices of sufferers. “I became scared of my own blood.”

“It was like living with your shoelaces tied together.”

“There is no healing. Time is just adding insult to injury.”

The audience illuminated small electric candles and a choir sang an arrangement of Shelley: “When thou art gone/ Love itself shall slumber on.”

Seb Carrington, whose late brother was given hepatitis C, described the hall as being “full of the living and full of the dead”. He said: “My brother James is standing here beside me.”