Labour had planned to continue its offensive on partygate and the cost of living during this week’s local elections. In recent weeks, that tactic has been yielding results: Boris Johnson has come under pressure for receiving a fixed penalty notice for attending an event in Downing Street involving birthday cake. Now it’s Keir Starmer who is facing the toughest questions about Covid rule breaches. The problem? Beergate.
This all relates to an event last year on 30 April where Starmer was pictured with a bottle of beer in the office of City of Durham MP Mary Foy ahead of the Hartlepool by-election. When it surfaced several months ago, there was an effort by Tory MPs who tried to draw equivalence with this event and the various allegations facing Boris Johnson’s No. 10 – from an alleged flat party to the infamous BYOB garden bash. Back then, it failed to take off. Labour insisted it was incomparable (describing it as a work event) and Durham police saying they did not believe any offence was committed. It appeared to be case closed.
So, what’s changed? The issue for Starmer is that the one event the Prime Minister has so far been fined for, along with the Chancellor – enjoying birthday cake in between meetings in No. 10 – is actually rather similar when it comes to the justifications from both parties for the event.
There are plenty of people who think a beer after work – or in a break – is not such a big deal. But given Labour went all out attacking Johnson and Sunak when they received fines for that specific event, it has left the door open for fresh questions over the Durham event.