Keir Starmer’s big gamble has paid off. The Labour leader and his deputy, Angela Rayner, will not receive a fine for “beergate”, Durham police have announced. They found that the lockdown gathering in April 2021 in Durham, at which Starmer was pictured with a bottle of beer, was reasonably necessary for work.
“What you will always get from me is someone who believes honesty and integrity matter,” Starmer said at a press conference following the news. “We [Labour] are united, we want to press on with a plan for Britain, and the change we want is more fundamental than a change at the top of the Tory party,” Starmer said, reiterating his call for a general election.
Both Starmer and Rayner had said that they would resign if they were fined. It was a gamble designed to pre-empt the inevitable: Starmer would have had to resign eventually if he was fined. Through his announcement, Starmer also hoped to strike a contrast between himself as an honourable, decent leader and Boris Johnson, the first prime minister to receive a criminal sanction (for his own lockdown gathering) while in office. That contrast has now been confirmed and is likely to have a prominent role in Labour’s attack lines.
In addition, however, Starmer’s promise had led to months of speculation about his leadership. That will now cease. The news will shore up Starmer’s authority within the party and the shadow cabinet. He will, as things stand, lead Labour into the next general election.
Labour has been cautious in criticising the government, stung after appearing hypocritical for going so hard on partygate. Now, with the Conservative Party in freefall and a leadership election to replace Johnson set to consume the summer, Labour is set to unveil its policy platform and has a chance to cement its lead in the polls. This has been a good week for Starmer.