Keir Starmer had one objective at Prime Minister’s Questions today, which was to resist the common assumption that “they’re all the same”. This is what matters politically in the furore over MPs’ standards of conduct. Last time, in the MPs’ expenses scandal under a Labour government, blame was spread about equally between both main parties; this time, the crisis has been started by the prime minister’s initial misjudgement over a breach of the rules by Owen Paterson, a Conservative MP.
Hence Starmer’s echo of Tony Blair, when two years before the 1997 election, he drew attention to the disarray of John Major’s party on Europe. “There is a difference,” said Blair. “I lead my party; he follows his.”
This time, Starmer said: “Here’s the difference: when somebody in my party misbehaves I kick them out.” He was referring to the case of Claudia Webbe, the former Labour MP found guilty of threatening to throw acid at a friend of her partner.
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