Monday 9 May 2022

Keir Starmer's BeerGate Gamble

One of the most annoying phrases in politics, and a favourite of Keir Starmer's, is "let me take this head on." Invariably, the answer that follows meanders all over the place and consumes interview time so further, potentially more awkward questions can't ba asked. But for once, by calling a press conference to announce his resignation if Durham Police fine him over "BeerGate", Starmer has done exactly that.

During his brief statement, Starmer positioned himself according to his usual contrivance: as a public servant honour bound by the principles of duty, probity, and integrity. Not just to put a clear distance between himself and the amoral vacuum of Downing Street, but because he undoubtedly believes it. There is perhaps profit in writing a short political profile that symptomatically sifts through Starmer's statements and speeches in which his silences and phraseology are reconstructed to form an internal narrative of honourable behaviour, despite lying to the members about his politics, returning Labour back to banana republic levels of petty authoritarianism, and reneging on a deal struck with Jeremy Corbyn to secure his readmittance to the parliamentary party. Alas, such an exercise has to wait.

But from the point of view of presentation aiming to get the average punter on side, Starmer did a good job of presenting his putative resignation as a matter of honour. A pledge Angela Rayner has signed up to if she's fined by Durham plod as well. It takes the heat off Labour, freeing Starmer and the front bench up to continue harrying Johnson from their moral high horse, and puts the Prime Minister on the spot. Just as it was always going to when the Daily Mail, other right wing outlets, and sundry Tory MPs joined in the crowing and demanding action be taken by the police. And regardless of the politics of onlookers, the hope is his willingness to put his career on the chopping block would win grudging respect across the political spectrum - which is good if your politics is primarily about rebuilding the legitimacy of state institutions, which Starmer's is.

It's not likely Starmer will cop a fine. Not just because of the details of the supposed breach, but also the huge pressure the Durham force are now under. Having been bounced by the Tories into reopening the case file on Starmer's beer and curry, being out on notice that the careers of two powerful politicians are now in their hands makes for a hot potato. This suggests fines aren't very likely. Going in Starmer and Rayner's favour is the reluctance the force has shown dishing out fines. They only issued 1,090 Covid notices between March 2020 and February this year. This is also the same police who did nothing about Dominic Cummings and his own restriction-breaking road trips. And so what might look like a high risk strategy for Starmer really isn't. The pain for Durham police is too awkward and inconvenient if fines are issued, therefore common sense suggests an institutional preference for the quiet life would eventually win out.

What about the politics? This is less certain. It's obvious Starmer's position is untenable if he's given a fine vis a vis his attacks on Johnson, and even if he wasn't inclined to pre-announce his resignation there are plenty on the right of the party, less than overwhelmed by Thursday's stellar performance at the ballot box, happy to enforce a premature retirement. It's unlikely to shift public opinion either. Those with their minds made up about Johnson's rule breaking will stay made up. Very few people are going to change their views by Starmer's example. But where it does matter is in the tete tete of Westminster shenanigans. There are Tory MPs discomfited by their grotesquerie of a Prime Minister and his utter disregard for parliamentary convention. According to their own twisted senses of honour, Starmer's move is audacious and principled. The unfavourable comparison between the Tory leader and Labour's demonstrates to them that decency is possible in politics, with the consequence of firming up their likelihoods of putting a no confidence letter into the 1922 Committee, or inducing a couple of others to follow Christian Wakeford across the floor. It also raises the morality stakes for Tory ministers. The opposition leader's pledge is now something the government can always be bashed with by its critics, and in Westminster where the avoidance of political pain is a chief concern, Starmer has gone some way of restoring the force of parliamentary convention.

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Alan Story said...


Chris Mason today became BBC political editor…and has flunked his first assignment.

Mason says Starmer is taking a “massive gamble” by agreeing to resign as Labour leader if he receives a fixed penalty fine over so-called “beergate.”

There is only one problem. It is NOT the practice of Durham police to issue retrospective fixed penalty notices related to Covid.

Remember Dominic Cummings? He was never fined for his Barnard Castle caper.

Is Starmer really taking a “massive gamble”? Or is it simply a cheap stunt to fool the gullible?

I know what my answer is.

Old Trot said...

Quite correct, Alan Story. Since the Durham police do not appear to EVER issue retrospective fines for Covid rule breaches, this is indeed simply a transparently obvious cynical stunt. The pro Tory press , like the Daily Mail, have pointed this out constantly since Starmer's staged 'Statement' to the dim and supine journalists at his press conference. The willingness of most journalists to go along with Starmer's " I'm just such a man of total integrity" pose, as yet, tells you a lot about the MSM's careful coddling of Labour's 'Man from the Deep State and Trilateral Commission', since his candidature and victory in Labour's Leadership contest , after their constant negative storyline, reputational lynching of Corbyn over a four year period. No awkward questions from the journalists present about the supposed 'man of integrity' Starmer's utterly lying 'offer' to the Labour Membership in 2019 , with his bogus 'Ten Pledges' . Or indeed any detail questions about the pre-advertised 'takeaway and booze' event that Starmer and Raynor blatantly participated in with a large gathering of local Party hacks.

Unfortunately for Starmer, come the next General Election, and that super-gentle MSM treatment will be dropped overnight , and they will, to use the American vernacular, "rip him a new asshole" , in their vicious treatment of the most pompous and wooden , and vote-winning ideas-lacking, Leader Labour has ever had. That younger self , neo-Trotskyist, pseudo socialist , past, and his collaboration as DPP in letting Jimmy Saville escape justice, and innumerable other radical statements in his opportunist pseudo Lefty youth, hasn't actually been forgotten by the MSM. They are just keeping their powder dry.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Its neither a massive gamble nor a cheap stunt. It seems a sensible response to a difficult position. The risk is low, as were the police to fine him he would have to resign, realistically. So, by saying he will he challenges Johnson to respond. It's a sensible move, but nothing more. It seems unlikely he will be fined, and equally unlikely that Johnson will respond other than with bluster and obfuscation. So, low risk, but also won't win over many people as a "principled" stand. I suspect most will think, as I do, that he should never have got himself into this position. However you try to spin in, a group of people having beer and a curry at night doesn't really look like work. He must have known that it could come out, and how it would be seized on by the Tory press. And he must have known that when he demanded Johnson's resignation for the parties. Of course it isn't really equivalent, but the look is not a good one, and it does undermine their position. So, whoever his minder is, they haven't done much of a job.

Anonymous said...

Lots of people bent/broke the Covid rules here and there, sometimes if not always knowingly.

Rather fewer drove a coach and horses through them, repeatedly, in the way Johnson and his colleagues/staff did.

That's a significant difference, and one that many people instinctively understand (as polling confirms)

Anonymous said...

Apart from Starmer's ineptitude in all this - for as Zoltan says, he shouldn't have got into this mess - I don't understand why it was first denied that Rayner was there, only to be later admitted that she was? That, in itself, makes Starmer's defence look very suspicious.