An indoor gathering that Keir Starmer attended while on the campaign trail in April last year — dubbed “beergate” — is now being investigated by Durham police.
The investigation raises serious questions about Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party. His repeated calls for Boris Johnson to resign make it difficult for him to stay on if he himself is now fined for breaking lockdown rules by having a curry and a beer with Labour campaigners. The same is true of Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, who also called for the Prime Minister to go after it was announced that Downing Street parties were under police investigation, and who was present at the beergate event too. The prospect of fines is a long way off, and Labour is currently saying that they would never be handed out, but this has the potential to become a serious problem for the leadership.
Even putting potential fines aside, Labour’s criticism of partygate has now been rendered redundant. If Starmer tries to pin Johnson down on the string of lockdown-breaking Downing Street parties, he will immediately be accused of hypocrisy. This is significant because partygate is far from over. The police investigation is not finished, and the much awaited and potentially highly damaging report on the parties by the civil servant Sue Gray is yet to be published. Johnson can tell his MPs that partygate will not be as electorally damaging now that Labour is also implicated. The police’s decision to investigate beergate has taken the sting out of a difficult few months for Johnson.
Labour’s saving grace could be that the public are so fed up with partygate that they won’t want to talk about Starmer’s curry. A likely outcome is that both leaders try to avoid the topic, with the focus shifting to the cost-of-living crisis. This is now the most important issue for voters and is one on which Labour can target the government’s tawdry Spring Statement and failure to anticipate the rise of energy prices in the autumn.
Yet Starmer’s repeated calls for Johnson to resign have placed him in a very tricky position. After a mixed performance in the local elections, Keir Starmer’s next few weeks just got much harder.