Who said politicians can’t have any fun? At last night’s Labour Christmas drinks (19 December), Keir Starmer was keen to show that you can bring together political hacks, MPs and advisers for a festive laugh at each other’s expense over a glass of white wine and a mince pie.
And though not present, it was the “King of the North” Andy Burnham, who has made no secret of his leadership ambitions, who had to endure the most memorable jibe. As Starmer spoke of finishing below Burnham in the lobby World Cup league, he quipped: “A brilliant result for him. He also got to see his boyhood team Argentina win the World Cup. It was a mixed bag because he also got to see his boyhood team France lose the final and his boyhood teams Morocco and Croatia lose in the semis. But Andy sadly can’t be with us tonight because he doesn’t know where Westminster is.”
The joke recalled one currently doing the rounds among Labour MPs: “A Blairite, a Brownite, a Milibandite and a Corbynite walk into a pub. ‘Hello, Mr Burnham,’ says the barman.”
As Starmer reflected on the political chaos that marked this year, he joked that it was defined by “three prime ministers, two positive mentions in the Sun, one Spectator award, and a month of Daily Mail splashes about a beer in Durham”. The latter paper, he said, “is grateful my name rhymes with beer”.
The Labour leader thanked the press and assured the room that he would never hide from scrutiny “whether under a desk, in a fridge or wherever Rishi’s been for the last three months”. Reflecting on Matt Hancock’s appearance on I’m a Celebrity, Starmer joked that it was “a rare sight of him eating bollocks rather than talking it”.
Presenting the winner of the World Cup lobby league, organised by the i’s Paul Waugh, Starmer offered his commiserations to the loser – a Labour parliamentary researcher from House of Lords – dubbing it “the worst performance since the 2019 election” and adding: “We responded to that by ensuring it would never happen again… that’s why we’re abolishing the House of Lords.”
Starmer finished by presenting the award for the highest-scoring Labour MP to Rosena Allin-Khan, the shadow mental health minister, who ensured the Labour leader didn’t escape mockery by declaring that the World Cup had proved that “there are some strikers we can all get behind”.