Former Labour adviser Derek Draper dies aged 56

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Derek Draper, the high-profile Labour insider who became one of Britain’s most acute sufferers of long Covid, has died at the age of 56.

In an Instagram post on Friday, TV presenter Kate Garraway said: “I’m sad to have to tell you that my darling husband Derek has passed away.”

Garraway said Draper had been “critically ill following a cardiac arrest in early December” which, because of longstanding damage from Covid-19, “led to further complications”. 

Sir Tony Blair led tributes to the ex-Labour adviser, describing him as a “tough sometimes ruthless political operative, a brilliant adviser and someone you always wanted on your side”.

“But underneath that tough exterior he was a loving, kind, generous and good-natured man you wanted as a friend,” the former prime minister added.

Draper contracted Covid at the start of the global pandemic and spent 13 months in hospital before returning home, where he required round-the-clock medical care given the damage to his kidneys, liver and heart.

Draper, a sociable and affable party activist from Lancashire, had been an influential Labour operator in the 1990s and co-founded the Blairite pressure group Progress. He also served as an adviser to senior party figures including Nick Brown and Lord Peter Mandelson. 

After the 1997 election, in which Blair won a landslide majority, Draper was juggling a job at a lobbying company with media work for the Modern Review magazine, Daily Express newspaper and Talk Radio.

In 1998 he was caught up in the “Lobbygate” scandal, in which he was recorded by an undercover reporter from The Observer newspaper speaking about his ability to access senior Labour ministers.

“There are 17 people who count in this government . . . to say I am intimate with every one of them is the understatement of the century,” Draper said in the recording.

He subsequently retrained as a psychotherapist, but did not let go of politics altogether. In 2009 he set up the LabourList website.

But Draper was soon caught up in a fresh row following media reports that he had received emails from Damian McBride, spin-doctor to then prime minister Gordon Brown, drawing up a plot to smear Conservative politicians.

Draper, who told McBride in an email that the plan was “brilliant”, was forced to make a public apology. He quit LabourList shortly afterwards.

Gordon Brown, who succeeded Blair as prime minister, said it was “so sad” that Draper had lost his life as a result of Covid, adding: “I will remember him as brilliant, creative and multitalented.”

Alastair Campbell, former Labour director of communications, said on X that Draper “was a huge character, a giver not a taker, and had so much more to give before Covid took its toll”.

Three years ago Garraway, who married Draper in 2005, made a prizewinning documentary, Finding Derek, about her husband’s illness and its impact on her and their two children.

“Derek was surrounded by his family in his final days and I was by his side holding his hand throughout the last long hours and when he passed,” Garraway said on Friday. 

She also paid tribute to the medical teams “who fought so hard to save him and to make his final moments as comfortable and dignified as possible”.

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