‘The sleaze is back’: ‘Growing sense’ among Britons that ‘rules don’t apply’ to top govt officials, says Keir Starmer

“There’s this strong sense of ‘one rule for them and another rule for everybody else’”

Kate Ng
Thursday 29 April 2021 00:18
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks to Robert Peston on ITV’s Peston programme
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks to Robert Peston on ITV’s Peston programme

Sir Keir Starmer has said there is a “growing sense” among the British public that “the sleaze is back for real”, as Boris Johnson faces questions over the way he runs his government.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston programme on Wednesday night, the Labour leader was pressed on whether people actually care about the allegations swirling around the prime minister in relation to cronyism and potential breaches of the ministerial code.

It comes after the Electoral Commission and the Cabinet secretary are both launching investigations into the funding of Mr Johnson’s Downing Street flat refurbishment. It was reported he received a loan for some of the cost of the renovations from a Tory donor, which Mr Johnson failed to deny.

The prime minister has insisted he had now paid the £88,000 bill for the lavish flat makeover himself.

Asked what the problem was if Mr Johnson had indeed paid back any loan from the Conservative Party, Sir Keir said: “The critical question is not whether he’s paid it now, but what the arrangement was in the first place. The prime minister carefully avoids answering the question of what happened in the first place.

“He’s got the Cabinet secretary doing an investigation, got the Electoral Commission doing an investigation. Those investigations could be over in five minutes if the prime minister just answered the question: who paid for it in the first place?”

He added: “On the question of loans, the prime minister tries to pretend that this is just a technical issue and nobody really cares, but actually the reason for transparency is to ensure that everybody knows where the money’s coming from, so everybody knows in a transparent way who, as it were, the prime minister owes one to.

“This argument that the prime minister and others are putting up around that ‘we may be up to no good but with a bit of luck people won’t notice’; I don’t have any truck with that argument.”

But whether or not the allegations of sleaze matter to voters is yet unclear, with a BMG poll for The Independent seeing Conservatives extend their lead over Labour to four points just a week before crucial elections.

Mr Johnson himself enjoyed improved satisfaction ratings, according to the poll, with voters saying they prefer him as prime minister over the Labour leader by a margin of 40 to 24 per cent.

Asked how he could persuade voters that the issues around sleaze mattered, Sir Keir told Mr Peston that the past few weeks have seen “day after day of allegations” of sleaze.

“I’ve been out in the last week or so, knocking on doors across the country, and it does come up. I’m not going to pretend for one moment that most members of the public haven’t got better things to do with their lives, but they do care about this growing sense that a group of people at the top of government think that the rules don’t apply to them and there’s this strong sense of ‘one rule for them and another rule for everybody else.

“That goes against a very strong British instinct… So there’s this strong sense that the sleaze is back, it’s back for real and it is literally one rule for them and one rule for everybody else.”

The Labour leader also took a jab at the reported cost of wallpaper the prime minister and his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, may have chosen for their flat. The couple are said to have enlisted the services of luxury interior designer Lulu Lytle, some of whose Soane Britain wallpapers cost upwards of £800 a roll.

“The idea that during the pandemic, the prime minister was bothering to pop out of meetings to look at wallpaper that cost £840 a roll, or even to take time on what sort of arrangement took place for the paying of his flat tells you something about his priorities - and that something is that they’re wrong,” added Sir Keir.

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