Alastair Campbell has sparked debate after claiming the prime minister is doing “fundamental damage to our democracy” as his government wrestles with ongoing scandals.

Campbell was speaking on Politics Live scandal swirls around former MP Owen Paterson who was found to have lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

Alastair Campbell, a self-proclaimed “lifelong anti-Conservative” said: “Corruption comes in many forms.”

He continued: “I would argue that it’s corrupt for serving newspaper editors to head off to get their peerages and we know for example the Daily Telegraph’s relationship with Boris Johnson such that he can lecture the world about changing our habits then getting on his private jet and fly down because Charles Moore [former Telegraph editor] summons him for a dinner at The Garrick Club to tell him what he wants to do in relation to Owen Paterson.”

The Telegraph’s Camilla Tominey hit back: “The idea that Alastair Campbell is in a position to lecture anyone on sleaze or so-called dodgy decision-making in government, is frankly laughable.”

Tominey clarified that she “has no aversion” to the police getting involved as she thinks it would be a “scandal” if multi-millionaires are being given honours.

Campbell said her retort was “whataboutery” and he pulled her up on her use of the word “dodgy”.

The term “dodgy” conjures memories of the “dodgy dossier” on Iraq’s weapons programme in the early 2000s. Campbell was previously accused of “sexing up” the intelligence dossier ahead of the Iraq war while he was Tony Blair’s director of communications, but he was cleared.

Bringing his attention back to the current scandal, Campbell continued: “Whether I’m talking about Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, when we talk about the seven principles of public life that John Major’s Nolan committee brought in - honesty, openness, objectivity, selflessness, integrity, accountability, leadership - I would argue that they, most of the time, obey those principles.

“I would even argue that Boris Johnson, the prime minister your paper [The Telegraph] supports so flagrantly, he breaks them every single day,” he added.

He continued: “More Tory MPs need to stand up to this prime minister who is doing fundamental damage to our democracy.”

Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith said the prime minister and those who voted with him exercised “poor judgement”.

Conservative MP Tim Loughton said: “The government got it wrong last week, last week frankly was a car crash and nobody comes out of it well, so I think the government very quickly needs to explain what it’s going to do going forward and start trying to regain some of the trust that has been lost in politicians generally.”

Loughton said there are lots of “angry” Conservative backbenchers who were “corralled” into voting with the government for proposed changes to the House of Commons sleaze rules.

He said reform of the system should not have been linked to Paterson and admitted that he “very reluctantly” voted for the amendment.

Viewers took to Twitter to discuss the episode of Politics Live, with host Jo Coburn tweeting: “That was quite a programme… time to lie down in a darkened room”.

Some enjoyed Campbell’s comments, whereas others were not so enthused. One Twitter user went so far as to brand him a “tosser”.

Former prime minister John Major has also spoken out in recent days, blasting the government’s handling of the paid lobbying scandal as “shameful”, “wrong” and said it “[trashed] the reputation of parliament” in a BBC interview.

Major, whose own government was embroiled in sleaze rows, said: “The striking difference is this: in the 1990s I set up a committee to tackle this sort of behaviour. Over the last few days we have seen today’s government trying to defend this sort of behaviour.”

When the prime minister was asked today - three times - if he would apologise for his handling of the Paterson scandal last week, he refused.

Johnson also said he would not be able to attend the debate on standards and sleaze in the Commons this afternoon.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused the prime minister of “running scared”, adding: “[Johnson’s] concern, as always, is self-preservation, not the national interest.”

The current row isn’t the only time Johnson’s government has been in hot water. For a refresher, check out our list on all the times the government has been accused of sleaze and corruption. 

For live updates on this afternoon’s debate, follow the Independent’s live blog. 

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