log in

  • Published in Opinion
Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer. Photo: PES Communications / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, license linked below article

Starmer has left the leadership of the official opposition to the opaque machinations of the Durham constabulary, writes Terina Hine

The oldest democracy in the world has certainly passed its prime. The unloved prince stands in for the ailing queen, the Prime Minister no one trusts can barely pass legislation even with an 80-seat majority, and the opposition leader’s fate lies in the hands of Durham police force. What a state we are in.

On the eve of the state opening of Parliament, having promoted himself as the face of respectability and honesty, Sir Keir Starmer announced he would resign as Labour leader if issued with a fixed-penalty notice by the Durham constabulary. Angela Rayner confirmed she too would do the decent thing” if fined.

The partygate allegations against Boris Johnson are much more serious than the somewhat confected beergate ones against Starmer and Rayner. But having staked your leadership and opposition on character rather than policy perhaps this is the outcome we should have expected.

Johnson is accused of presiding over multiple offences, some of which took place in the height of lockdown, all of which took place at the heart of government – repeat offences made by those who created the rules. The Prime Minister has already been issued with a fine for his birthday lockdown breaches, and of course, there’s the trifling matter that he is also guilty of lying to Parliament. Equivalence is hard to argue.

But none of this prevented the right-wing press from using beergate to show that during the pandemic we were indeed all at it together, cleverly diluting partygate in the run-up to the local elections. To be fair Labour’s absence of policies gave them little else to attack.

Monday’s manoeuvre by Labour – Starmer offering his resignation if issued with a fine – has been heralded by some as a brilliant 3-D chess move. Indeed, Conservative Central Office had already sent out warnings against calling for Starmer’s resignation, fearing the implications for their own side.

Shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, told Sky News on Tuesday morning that the contrast between Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer was clear: Starmer is a man of "integrity" and "decency" while the lying Johnson merely clings on” disgraced.

But Starmer is not and never has been a man of integrity. Just ask those Labour members who voted for him in the leadership election, believing his claims about being the unity candidate and supporting Corbyn’s left-wing policy agenda, only to be rewarded with expulsion and a policy void. No, Sir Keir’s integrity is not all it’s cracked up to be.

And let’s face it, no party leader deliberately manipulates the media to encourage speculation about a successor. This 3-D chess has led the vultures to circle. On Sunday it was clear that Labour’s Lisa Nandy was refusing to rule herself out of a leadership bid, and in the media, leadership speculation is rife. This is hardly Starmers finest hour.

The most ironic outcome would be for Starmer to resign over beergate while Johnson weathers partygate intact, an outcome that is clearly a possibility. But it would be no loss to Labour – for the left or the right – so much so that some have speculated the beergate leaks were an inside job. After all, last week’s election results were far from victorious.

Team Starmer believe they will be vindicated, victorious legally if not politically. Others less charitable suggest the Durham police, who buckled under Tory pressure to open the case, will buckle under Labour pressure to close it and give Starmer a clean bill of health. Then Starmer could double down on Johnson if/when further fines are issued and the Sue Grey report finally sees the light of day. With no sign of a policy agenda on the horizon this would at least provide a campaign angle for Labour.

Starmer has said he would only quit if he receives a fixed-penalty notice - something the Durham force have historically refused to issue retrospectively, even for Dominic Cummings’ eye sight test. So a judgement could be reached in which beergate was held to be in violation of Covid regulations but no fine gets issued. This would put Starmer’s ‘honour’ to the test. No doubt he would attempt to ride the storm but he would be significantly wounded.

Starmer’s leadership and political strategy has been based on pitting his staid and serious character against the buffoon in No 10. A character assassination in the media is therefore particularly dangerous; with nothing else to offer to lose his reputed good character is to lose all.

So on the day the Tories and the prince announced absolutely nothing to help people struggling with the cost of living crisis, at a time when inflation is forecast to hit 10% and when the party in power have proved incapable of governing, Starmer has left the leadership of the official opposition to the opaque machinations of the Durham constabulary. That’s check mate for you.

Before you go...

Counterfire is expanding fast as a website and an organisation. We are trying to organise a dynamic extra-parliamentary left in every part of the country to help build resistance to the government and their billionaire backers. If you like what you have read and you want to help, please join us or just get in touch by emailing [email protected] Now is the time!


Help boost radical media and socialist organisation

Join Counterfire today

Join Now