If Starmer gets a fine for Beergate, he should resign – and so should the PM. But what happens then?

It would be a bizarre situation, near simultaneous leadership elections in both parties, but the law is the law. In a few months we might have Jeremy Hunt facing Wes Streeting over the despatch box

Sean O'Grady
Friday 06 May 2022 15:01
Comments
<p>If true, I can’t see any alternative to resignation</p>

If true, I can’t see any alternative to resignation

Ambushed by curry, then? It’s difficult to keep up with politics these days. Last night, Sir Keir Starmer was looking at a set of local elections that were, much like himself, solid rather than spectacularly impressive, but enough, in principle, to suggest that he might yet be prime minister in about a year’s time.

A 9 per cent swing since the 2019 election, indicated by the BBC projected national vote share, would certainly make Starmer favourite to be the next PM. Or not, it turns out, because he might have had a dodgy curry (in the legal sense).

Not quite out of the blue, so to speak, Durham Police have announced that they’re going to have another look at Beergate. They want to see whether breaches of lockdown rules occurred after all, when Sir Keir and his fellow campaigners had a beer and curry break between working sessions.

The police thought it no big deal before; but after a considerable amount of bullying by the Tory press and some mischevious Conservative backbenchers, the tension mounted. How many council seats would Labour have won if the Durham Police had made their announcement a few days ago? But what if they had told the press but it later turned out Starmer is innocent? The coppers couldn’t win on that one.

Soon, therefore, it seems likely that Starmer and Johnson will at least be able to agree on one thing: now neither of them will have any comment to make until the police have finished their inquiries. It would make for an interesting session of Prime Minister’s Questions – Starmer too embarrassed to ask the questions about Partygate that Johnson has no intention of answering anyway.

Though the speaker will remind him that it’s not Leader of the Opposition Questions, Johnson will no doubt enjoy asking Starmer if he intends to resign. It would be like that double Spider-Man meme you see on social media.

Ridiculous, in other words, but also deeply damaging to faith in politics if the opposition cannot hold the government to account because they’re too ashamed. Starmer is supposed to be the anti-Boris, the one with integrity. Lose that and you lose Starmer.

At least Sir Keir won’t need to pay any expensive lawyers to give him advice, if it turns out that he needs it. I have a feeling Starmer will not get slapped with a fine, simply because it is all too believable that he did indeed go back to work and carried on working until midnight or something.

It seems implausible that Starmer would in any way bend or break the rules, whereas with Johnson you’d have to assume he always will. However, we have to consider the possibility that Starmer inadvertently broke the law/rules, and he gets a fine. There are four possible reactions to this: Johnson should resign but Starmer shouldn’t; Starmer should resign but Johnson shouldn’t; neither should resign because it doesn’t matter; both should resign because integrity comes first.

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I favour the fourth option. If you take Covid, the rule of law and the victims of the pandemic seriously, and you’re in the position Starmer and Johnson find themselves in (even though Starmer’s would have been a one-off, accidental and wasn’t part of a culture of criminality that resulted in 50 plus fines being issued), I can’t see any alternative to resignation.

It would be a bizarre situation, near simultaneous leadership elections in both parties, but the law is the law. It might even drag Angela Rayner into the controversies. In a few months we might have Jeremy Hunt facing Wes Streeting over the despatch box. Life would go on, at any rate.

It won’t happen, because the people who would require Starmer and Johnson, respectively, to resign are, by definition, so partisan. And thus Partygate and Beergate will just drag on until someone takes the punchbowl away. No sign of the drinks, cake or curry running out yet, though.

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