Support 100 years of independent journalism.

Will Keir Starmer’s gamble pay off?

By pledging to resign if fined, the Labour leader has intensified the pressure on Boris Johnson.

By Freddie Hayward

Keir Starmer has chosen to gamble his political career on the result of Durham police’s investigation into a curry and beer gathering last year, saying that he would resign if he received a fine for breaking Covid restrictions.

The key question for Starmer was whether he was going to resign anyway if he was fined. Starmer’s persistent calls for Boris Johnson to step down over partygate would have meant the pressure on him to go would’ve been severe. If he was going to go anyway then pre-empting the decision and piling the pressure on the Prime Minister was a smart decision.

We are at a strange juncture in British politics: outside of an election but with the fates of both party leaders inextricably linked. The stakes have been raised and the timing of announcements of the results of investigations (by the Met Police, Durham Constabulary and the civil servant Sue Gray) could prove pivotal. If Starmer is vindicated before Gray and the Met Police conclude their investigations, then the pressure on the Prime Minister to resign will grow. Of course, Starmer himself could end up resigning. That would throw the Labour Party into an unpredictable search for a new leader one or two years before a general election.

This was a risk for Starmer. Although his announcement made it easier for him to criticise the government over partygate, the drawn-out police investigation will continue to blunt Labour’s attack line. Nonetheless, the announcement put Labour on the front foot. It distinguished Starmer from Johnson and staved off the slow degradation of Starmer’s public standing. Partly as a consequence of the country lurching from crisis to crisis, Starmer’s pitch to the British public so far has focused more on the differences between him and Johnson than on how Labour would change the country. On Friday, when the police announced that they had launched the investigation, that strategy came under threat. But Starmer has now decided to double-down on his character and he is left hoping that his gamble will pay off.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
The shrinking road to net zero
The tree-planting misconception
Is your business ready for corporate climate reporting?