Many criticisms can be levelled at Labour leader Sir Keir Sternmer, as with any public figure.
It is rare to find a career-destroying tendency for partying.
Yet it is a fresh probe into a boozy lockdown “work” gathering that currently threatens to cut short his political career.
Starmer has been accused of breaching Covid rules after being videoed drinking beer in Durham’s local Labour party office after 10:00 pm on 30 April 2021.
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Covid rules at the time stressed that such indoor political meetings were only legally permitted if “reasonably necessary” for a campaign.
The SunA newspaper also claimed that the Labour campaigners ordered enough food at a local curry house for 30 people.
Durham Constabulary said back in February that Starmer did not break the rules, but a fresh investigation was announced last Friday after they claimed to have received “compelling new evidence”.
Sir Keir has repeatedly called on the prime minister to resign after Scotland Yard slammed him and Rishi Sunak with £50 fines respectively for a May 2021 birthday gathering in Downing Street.
He also demanded that Boris Johnson resign when an investigation was opened into lockdown-defying gatherings in No 10, before Johnson was fined.
In a speech to journalists on Monday afternoon, Starmer maintained that it was “absolutely clear” he broke no laws at the Durham event, saying that “[he does not] believe those accusing me believe it themselves.”
However, he promised to resign as Labour leader if a fixed penalty notice was issued.
He could now be accused of hypocrisy by all sides if it is not possible for him to resign in the case of a similar fine being issued.
A new YouGov survey found that nearly half (48%) of Labour voters think the party’s leader should resign in the face of a Covid penalty 46% of British adults believed that Starmer should be expelled if he is fined.
This suggests that Starmer’s decision to promise his resignation should be fined is the wisest decision for Labour’s chances of winning over voters in 2024.
Starmer could be charged with double-standards if Starmer is found guilty of violating Covid rules. However, a fine is not required.
While Labour’s popularity has grown in recent months- the government has correspondingly been mired in successive scandals- many lament Sir Keir’s apparent failure to score better with the public in light of this somewhat open goal.
A number of promising centre-left candidates are currently residing in the Labour frontbench, including shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and the likes Wes Streeting. Any of these candidates could prove to be more convincing than Sir Keir’s performance, which has been repeatedly criticized for being uncharismatic. Crucially, all of these leading Labour figures, aside from deputy leader Angela Rayner who would follow Starmer out the door, are untainted by the alleged Covid law breach- something that cannot be said for Johnson’s top team.
Cooper and Nandy also have the benefit of having not campaigned for a second referendum, the policy Starmer stumped for throughout Theresa May’s premiership.
An Opinium poll following the 2019 election found that 37 per cent of 2017 Labour voters who switched their vote in 2019 cited Corbyn’s leadership as their primary concern. But given that 21 per cent cited Brexit as their key reason for failing to vote Labour, surely a leader with a less rigid anti-Brexit history than Starmer could only be a good thing for the party’s electoral fortunes?
Despite the high cost of living and 12 Covid gatherings at No 10 and Whitehall, Labour is currently 2 percent ahead of the Conservatives. The Blair-led opposition was firmly in contention to win 1997’s election with 22 points. According to current projections, Labour could be a major party after the next general election. However, they are not likely to be able command a majority.
While Starmer has clearly made some progress toward rehabilitating the party following the Corbyn years, his party’s lacklustre performance suggests his image is more of a problem that his spin doctors suggest, and that a fresh face might be wise.
Starmer and Rayner could also be forced to resign if they are fined. This could increase pressure on Conservative MPs to remove Johnson, who has been fined for Covid. Should Starmer step down following a fine, voters are likely to respect Labour’s decision to apply their attitude to Covid rules as consistent with both themselves and the government. In contrast, Boris Johnson’s “partygate” issue could plague his party well into the future should his premiership continue to survive the scandal.
While Sir Keir’s public image is markedly less rambunctious than No 10’s current tenant, any individual who makes it to the leadership of the Opposition surely possesses a healthy dose of ambition and grit. Starmer may not resign as Labour leader yet, but it is unlikely that we will hear from him again.