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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.

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