How 'Beergate' Put Keir Starmer In A Tight Spot Just As Voters Head To The Polls

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Keir Starmer accused the Tories of
Keir Starmer accused the Tories of

Keir Starmer accused the Tories of "mudslinging" just as voters go to the polls in the local council elections on Thursday. (Photo: Danny Lawson - PA Images via Getty Images)

Downing Street’s partygate scandal has been a godsend for Labour ever since it broke at the end of last year.

Barely a week has gone by without further developments in the scandal over lockdown-busting parties in and around Number 10.

Boris Johnson’s personal poll ratings have tumbled, as have the Tories’, as voters vent their anger.

Even Rishi Sunak has lost his shine after being issued with a Metropolitan Police fine for attending a birthday bash for the prime minister in the Cabinet Room on June 19, 2020.

But that invaluable political capital gifted to Labour now risks being squandered as Keir Starmer finds himself fending off his own allegations of breaking covid laws.

It has also raised questions about the Labour leader’s ability to get himself out of a tight spot when pursued aggressively by the tabloid media.

The timing could not have been worse for Starmer, with voters across the UK going to the polls tomorrow.

When a grainy photo of Starmer drinking a bottle of beer while campaigning in Durham first emerged a year ago, it was met with little fanfare. Starmer explained he and his team had paused to have a takeaway before getting back to work.

Confirmation from Durham Police that they were satisfied no rules were broken appeared to suggest it was case closed.

But a drip feed of new details — including that up to 30 people may have been in attendance and that a £200 Indian takeaway was ordered at 9pm — threatens to make Labour’s attacks on the Tories redundant, given the charges of hypocrisy and double standards that have inevitably followed.

Party sources have also expressed frustration at the way the story has been handled, citing Starmer’s refusal earlier this week to answer basic questions on whether Durham Police had spoken to him. Labour later confirmed that they had not.

One party insider told HuffPost UK that they believed Lynton Crosby, Johnson’s Australian poll guru, was “eating Keir alive” over what the right-wing press have dubbed “beergate”.

“Lynton Crosby is behaving like a fox in the hen house, smashing Labour’s amateur and out-of-depth comms operation all over his Belgravia tennis court,” they said.

“It’s classic Crosby — kill your opponent’s cat and throw it in their face.

“Labour now looks exactly the same as the Tories, and cannot get their message across days before the local elections.”

Another source suggested the party needed to go harder and be clearer about the difference between Starmer’s situation and the No.10 parties being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.

“We had a curry and a beer while we were working, they wheeled in a suitcase of booze and held a mock press conference where they joked about their wine and cheese party,” they said.

“We were working, they were on the lash while loved ones died without their families around them.

“It’s completely different and the only reason anyone is trying to say anything different is because the Conservative Party don’t want to talk about why people can’t pay their bills.

“Keir should go for them — but that sort of attack just isn’t his strong suit.

“This is the Tory political operation – create a stench of wrongdoing even if there isn’t one, and that will keep the real issues off the table.”

When HuffPost UK spoke to Starmer about beergate while on the campaign trail, he made clear he felt no rules had been broken.

“We were working in the office, it was a few days before the election, we paused for food, carried on,” he said.

“No breach of the rules, no party, the police looked at it months ago and decided there was nothing wrong, and that’s the long and the short of it.”

What makes Labour’s headache worse is the unambiguous stance it has taken towards Met Police fines.

After Johnson and Sunak were slapped with fixed penalty notices, Starmer called for both of them to go.

Sunak has, by some, been seen as hard-done by, given that by his account, he stumbled on the birthday gathering by accident while waiting to attend another meeting.

If Starmer believes that demands a resignation, then his beer in Durham would most likely warrant his too.

Some allies believe Starmer’s reputation as a former director of public prosecutions will ultimately help reinforce his reputation as law maker and not a law breaker.

While Johnson has a reputation for playing fast and loose with the truth, Starmer is known for his seriousness.

“Keir was upfront when he said it was just mudslinging,” one ally said. “He was DPP — he is not going to actively bend any rules or laws. The police haven’t been in touch.

“Keir was saying, in a very legalistic sense, that the case has been closed.”

Voters will decide on Thursday whether they share the same verdict — or whether this latest episode confirms the suspicion that all politicians are the same.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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