April 4, 2023 - 7:00am

Sir Keir Starmer is to travel to France and Albania in a bid to show voters that he would “clean up the utter mess” of illegal migration, “created by the British Government”. An ally told The Times that “we need to demonstrate that we are as keen as the government to stop the boats — the difference is competence.” 

Starmer’s visit to Albania, a country from where many of those heading across the Channel appear to be economic migrants, will be heavily trailed and choreographed. Of interest might be the identities of those who are doing the trailing and choreography for both the Labour leader and the Left-leaning Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama. 

It is quite conceivable that both former prime minister Tony Blair and his one time director of communications Alastair Campbell, who have long lent their services to the Albanians, may have a hand in the speeches for Starmer and Rama. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to learn that they came up with the whole Starmer-Albania caper in the first place. 

After all, Blair was appointed a ‘special adviser’ to an Albanian government seeking EU membership back in 2013, while Campbell can claim some credit in helping Rama, a New Labour fan, get elected around the same time. Last year he was even rumoured to have advised Rama respond strongly to Home Secretary Suella Braverman for her comments on Albanian migrants entering the country.

And in 2016, the Blair relationship with Albania’s Government became a rather touching family affair when it was revealed that Cherie Blair’s law firm had been paid nearly half a million pounds for legal advice by the government of Albania. Here, Omnia Strategy earned a fee of £493,000 for acting as Albania’s official adviser in a legal dispute with a British scanning company. 

So the exact nature of Tony Blair’s work for the Albanians has remained starkly unclear, with advice apparently being offered via the ‘Tony Blair Institute for Global Change’. If this work were pro bono, doubtless we would know about it. 

Meanwhile, in between bobbing up and down as a splenetic commentator and podcaster, Campbell has also been on the books of lobbying and PR agency Portland Communications, which was founded in 2001 by Tim Allan, a former adviser to Tony Blair. Portland works for a number of foreign governments, big businesses & blue-chip clients. It must be great to help engineer events and then write glowingly about them afterwards. 

Yet the truth about Albania isn’t quite so rosy. As a former journalist on The Mirror and the now defunct Today newspaper, what would Campbell have to say about this reported case, for instance: “In July, the prime minister banned a journalist for three months from participating in his press conferences, saying that he should be sent for ‘re-education’ and accusing him of unethical behaviour”? 

The reality is that there is a migrant problem with Albania: in 2020, 50 Albanians arrived on small boats. In 2022, that figure was 12,301, which accounted for 28% of all small boat arrivals. Quite whether Starmer is ‘competent’ enough to deal with this issue, should he be elected prime minister, remains to be seen. Given the ties between the Albanian government and former party luminaries, though, we shouldn’t hold our breath.  

Mark Seddon is a former UN correspondent and New York bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He also worked in the speechwriting unit for the former secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon