Posturing Sir Beer’s mess is entirely of his own making: Like all politicians who try to strike poses on the moral high ground, Keir Starmer’s ethical posturing has come back to bite him, writes MICK HUME
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, is supposedly a law-abiding and morally upright figure.
‘He’s Mr Rules. He doesn’t break the rules,’ Shadow Cabinet member Lisa Nandy piously insisted to Sky News at the weekend.
Yet, as his tortuously woven web of dissembling, double standards and alleged dishonesty over ‘Beergate’ unravels, Starmer now faces being known instead as ‘Mr Rules Are Only For The Rest Of You’.
An official Labour document obtained by the Mail has confirmed that, despite the repeated denials from Starmer and his team, their curry-and-beer event with local activists in Durham in April last year – when restrictions on social gatherings indoors were still in place – was at least as rule-breaking as Boris’s ten-minute birthday party in Downing Street.
We now know that the Labour leader’s get-together included a pre-planned 80-minute dinner rather than a spontaneous meal break taken during a busy day of campaigning.
And, contrary to Starmer’s insistence that the group merely grabbed a quick bite before getting back to the grindstone, we know that no further work was planned after the curry and beer had been consumed late on that Friday night.
Labour leader Keir Starmer pictured as he leaves his home in London amid beergate accusations on Saturday
The ‘visit programme’ also confirms that everybody knew deputy leader Angela Rayner would be there all along.
The repeated claim that Labour officials simply ‘forgot’ about her flame-haired presence always seemed about as unconvincing as Starmer the metropolitan London lawyer posing as a friend of the North East working classes while sipping a bottle of Spanish lager.
Mrs Rayner is not generally thought of, after all, as a forgettable wallflower or shrinking violet.
Then again, if some of them do have foggy memories of that night it could be because, as one Labour informant has claimed, local MP Mary Foy and her team were there ‘just getting p*****’.
Like all politicians who try to strike poses on the moral high ground, from John ‘Back To Basics’ Major to Tony ‘I’m A Pretty Straight Sorta Guy’ Blair, Starmer’s ethical posturing has come back to bite him.
Having loudly insisted that Boris Johnson must resign or be sacked over Partygate in Downing Street, he now faces calls to step down over Beergate at the Durham Miners Hall.
If Starmer had exhibited a more rational response to Partygate, and not called for the Prime Minister’s resignation over the crime of having a birthday cake in a tupperware box, he would be in less trouble now.
But, by being so harrumphingly hawkish about Boris, Sir Keir has got himself into a complete mess – one entirely of his own making.
As Labour Party leader, Sir Keir might have had limited success to date. But he can now point to at least one remarkable achievement – he has made many people suspect that he is at least as untrustworthy as the notoriously shifty Boris.
Labour officials initially denied Angela Rayner (right) had been in attendance, before claiming they ‘forgot’ about her presence
Indeed for some, Starmer’s hyprocrisy over breaking lockdown rules is, if anything, even worse than Mr Johnson’s.
Boris always looked like a reluctant lockdown PM, giving in too easily to the safety-first-and-last experts of Sage before looking for an early-ish way out.
By contrast, Sir Keir was the high priest of lockdown zealotry. Labour’s only attempted criticism of the Government’s authoritarian Covid laws was to insist that the Conservatives should have locked us all down earlier, harder and for even longer.
F or those of us who believe the bigger lockdown scandal was the imposition of such irrational and fear-driven rules in the first place, Labour’s fanatical authoritarians were always a large part of the problem.
To find that Starmer and Rayner were partying in defiance of the lockdown laws they championed reveals a level of hyprocrisy which we might have suspected but had not previously seen.
Should Starmer have to resign over an illicit beer and curry – even if Durham Constabulary dig up enough evidence to fine him?
Of course, he should not – any more than Boris should be forced out of office over a ten-minute party and a £50 fixed penalty notice.
Police should surely have more important crimes to investigate and our political leaders should certainly have bigger issues to debate.
We are living, lest anybody forget, through a cost of living crisis, with many worried about whether they can afford the price of a pint or a cake.
Inflation is spiralling out of control and economists are beginning to mention the ‘R’ word as many predict a recession further down the road.
And then, of course, there is the bloody war in eastern Europe that has many Ukrainians worrying about whether they will reach their next birthday – never mind how they might keep the lights on for any future late-night ‘work gatherings’.
So obviously there are many more serious issues for our leaders to focus on than the essentially petty bunfights over Beergate or Partygate.
But that does not mean Sir Keir, or indeed Mr Johnson, can simply brush these things off like leftover crumbs.
Because the Labour leader’s troubles now transcend curry-eating and beer-drinking. They concern the central political tests of trust and honesty.
Just how low public trust in our political leaders has sunk was demonstrated by last week’s local elections. The results reflected a widespread ‘none of the above’ attitude – a distinct lack of enthusiasm for any of the major parties.
Even by the poor standards of local elections, voter turnout was damagingly low – an estimated 34 per cent compared with 67 per cent at the 2019 general election.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured as he leaves a polling station after casting his vote for the local elections on Thursday
The ‘Gate’ scandals can only make things worse. The results also show that Starmer and Labour are still not benefiting from the Tories’ troubles as much as might have been expected.
Labour certainly consolidated its dominance in London, but there is little sign yet of a serious revival in the key Red Wall seats of the North and Midlands which it lost to the Conservatives in 2019.
Given that Durham Constabulary did not announce their decision to open an investigation into Beergate until a day after Britain went to the polls, Labour’s performance is more disturbing still.
It’s also worth recalling that the infamous Beergate gathering took place during campaigning for the 2021 Hartlepool by-election.
Labour lost, with Hartlepool electing a Tory MP for the first time since the seat was created in 1974. It is tempting to think that, if Starmer and Rayner had spent more time campaigning than currying, Labour could have done better. But maybe not.
The signs are that working class voters in the former Labour heartlands find Starmer a pallid, uninspiring figure. Many of them voted for Brexit and are also not daft enough to forget his role as Labour’s leading Remainer.
Starmer’s main appeal for support so far has simply been ‘I’m not Boris Johnson’. But the more he becomes mired in allegations of hypocrisy and dishonesty, the less convincing even that line becomes. I suspect many people would still rather share a curry with Boris.
We need feel little sympathy for the stiff Starmer, undone largely by his own self-righteous posturing. Or, as Shakespeare might have it, hoist with his own petard.
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