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4 May 2022

Keir Starmer is starting to struggle over “beergate”

The Labour leader looked oddly uncomfortable when interviewed on Good Morning Britain this morning.

By Harry Lambert

Has the quality of our politicians collapsed? It has at times felt that way in the past 24 hours. First Boris Johnson (yesterday) and now Keir Starmer (this morning) have struggled to answer simple questions on Good Morning Britain. This isn’t Newsnight, it’s a show co-hosted by Richard Madeley – a comic force, perhaps, but not a political one. A strong politician should be able to glide through an interview on GMB.

The prerequisite for surviving an interview is having a competent set of answers to the questions you are likely to face, and then actually answering them – or at least appearing to. That is not a bar either Johnson or Starmer appear able to clear at the moment. As a result, interviews really are a question of survival for both men when they should feel like opportunities. A politician with something to say should be excited by a chance to address the nation, to either clear up misconceptions or advance their own ideas.

Why did Starmer look so worried on GMB this morning? Questioned on what is becoming known as beergate – which is either a non-story manufactured by the Mail or an event that undermines Labour’s attacks on partygate – Starmer looked oddly uncomfortable. “Let me take that head on,” he told Madeley when asked why a £200 takeaway had been ordered for him and others after a day of campaigning in Durham.

“People understand the work bit,” Susanna Reid interjected after Starmer focused on the day of campaigning rather than the evening of food and drink, “but you couldn’t socialise, so are you trying to say what you did was reasonable for work? You’ve already said your wife couldn’t go into her father’s flat to clean, so how come so many of you were in a room drinking beer and eating food?”

Starmer looked down at the desk, before replying uncertainly: “Let me just try and answer that, and give the detail.” A takeaway was ordered, he explained, after he had been doing “pieces to camera”, “clearing documents” and “preparing for the next day” of campaigning. He and others then picked up a plate of food from the kitchen and “got on with the work”. It would be wrong, in other words, to describe anything that happened as socialising.

Reid was unconvinced, comparing Starmer’s account to Johnson’s being presented with a birthday cake while supposedly working in Downing Street. In reality, Johnson presided over a months-long culture of rule-breaking in No 10 and has been fined by police; their positions are not comparable. But other journalists are also underwhelmed that Starmer has only now given more detail on the Durham event. In the end, the story may not matter much: polling shows that 70 per cent think Johnson didn’t follow lockdown rules, while only 28 per cent think that of Starmer. But by holding back information until reports have forced him to say more, Starmer appears to have needlessly put himself on the back foot.

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