As Jesus Christ famously said 2000 years ago, let he who has never had an illegal curry cast the first stone. It is this timeless message that Labour are now worried Sir Keir forgot while he was gleefully hammering home revelations about Boris Johnson’s Covid misconduct.
Keir’s own suspicious evening of jollity, now dubbed “Beergate”, has been doing the rounds for a while, mainly in the right-wing blogosphere, but it has finally hit the mainstream now, with Durham Police confirming they are investigating whether a breach took place. The drama went up a notch further when Sir Keir stumped up in a press conference and confirmed that if fined, he will resign.
We are now in a situation where Starmer’s career, the future of the Labour Party, and quite possibly the fate of the next General Election, hinges on whether a group of PCs in Durham decide that the curry and titular beer were ‘reasonably necessary’. No pressure coppers.
What will they find? It is impossible to say. But this will all be making Keir and his camp feel distinctly uneasy. He has modelled himself, not only as someone who never breaks the rules, but someone who follows them to the letter, to the dot, to the comma. At the very least, “beergate” raises questions about whether Keir really was that scrupulous after all, and puts the Labour leader in a different light. It is almost disconcerting seeing the words ‘Keir Starmer’ paired with words like ‘alcohol’ and even ‘party’. Perhaps the biggest revelation is that Keir actually eats curry and drinks beer, like a normal person. He doesn’t just do it for show either, he does it when he thinks no one is watching! In other circumstances this could have been a PR win for the Labour leader, although it will probably soon come out that he had a Korma and washed it down with a bottle of Bud Light. He should really make a statement clarifying that would be a resigning issue too.
Uncertainty will remain rife around Starmer for the duration of the police investigation, which could go on for months. Expect endless speculation, briefings and counter briefings, alongside ponderous questions like: ‘was it a work dinner if they chatted politics between mouthfuls?’ ‘What happens if he gets a slap on the wrist but no fine?’ ‘If he was working, why was he drinking on the job?’ And so on and so on. You’ll get Starmer sympathisers calling him Mr Rules like Lisa Nandy, while his enemies argue deceit is true to form for the slippery, two faced careerist, who got in power on a manifesto of pledges which he ditched the next day.
In the circumstances Sir Keir has handled the situation quite well, and his statement seemed dignified, while also not so subtly ratcheting up the pressure on the police. And he will be viewing this, rightly, as an opportunity as well as a threat. By pushing this story, the Conservatives are actively encouraging the public to draw a comparison between Johnson and Starmer. They want
the public’s take on recent scandals to morph from “those bloody Tories” to “those bloody politicians”. That may come off, but it is high risk. Because what if the police, and more importantly, the public, conclude that the comparison is not ‘they are the same’, but ‘they are chalk and cheese.’ What started as a tough news story could end up being a Clause 4 moment for Keir. Blair needed to put clear blue water between himself and what came before on ideology. Keir needs to put clear blue water between himself and the incumbent Prime Minister on integrity. Could this be his chance to do that?
Early polls suggest the public do not view Starmer the same way as they view Johnson on the issue, and it will be a hard sell for the Government to convince them there is true equivalence. Firstly, Starmer didn’t make the rules, Johnson did. Secondly, the allegations are much more numerous against Johnson than against Starmer. And thirdly, most importantly, they just don’t seemthe same. Starmer really does come across as a rule follower, a boring but straight laced guy. Johnson, to put it midly, does not.
Is the beer glass half empty or half full for Keir? It is too soon to say, but this issue is high risk for both men, and could result in anything from the destruction of Keir Starmer’s career, to the making of it. A not insignificant curry, all-in-all.