Stephen Daisley

Starmer must go – and take Boris with him

Starmer must go – and take Boris with him
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Sir Keir Starmer has spent the past 24 hours in the witness protection programme. After the Mail on Sunday published an itinerary of the now infamous visit to Durham, complete with a gathering for beer and curry, the Labour leader’s version of events appears to be in doubt. This afternoon he was a no-show at an Institute for Government event. Then he turned up at a press conference at 4 p.m. and took a gamble:

No rules were broken — I’m absolutely clear about that — but, in the event that I’m wrong about that and I get a fixed penalty notice, I’ll do the right thing and step down.

The Labour leader is trying to outmanoeuvre the Prime Minister. Confident that he won’t be fined, he wants to draw a contrast between himself and Boris Johnson. If he did wrong, he’ll go — unlike the Prime Minister, who is a law unto himself.

The MoS revelations may have forced Starmer's hand but the real game-changer was Durham police re-investigating the April 2021 incident. After all, when the Metropolitan police made enquiries into partygate, Sir Keir said being ‘under criminal investigations’ meant the Prime Minister ‘needs to do the decent thing and resign’.

Labour’s attempts to wriggle off the hook have been risible and amount to nothing more than the progressive doctrine of differential ethics: it’s okay when we do it. Of course, the whole thing is a disgrace. Durham police has opened a ‘major incident room’ to investigate the Labour leader’s curry, which seems rather excessive. But Starmer can’t say this because he made such mileage out of birthday cakes.

For their part the Tories are having to walk a fine line, crowing about Starmer's hypocrisy but not explicitly calling for his resignation. If he has to go, then surely the Prime Minister does too. Moreover, the Tories fear that Labour might replace him with a more effective leader. (They don’t have much experience of Labour leadership elections, do they?)

The sensible thing would be for Sir Keir to admit he got it wrong. He could say that Boris’s rule-breaking is more egregious. He could apologise and let British politics get back to being about something other than the definition of a work event.

That may be the sensible solution but it would not be the solution in the best interests of Britain. A better solution would be this: that they both resign. Starmer should be convinced to hand in his notice out of some misguided fidelity to the rule of law and the office he once held. This would precipitate the departure of Boris Johnson, either by resignation or by his MPs toppling him.

To be clear, neither should go because of any rule-breaking — honestly, who even cares at this point? — but because they are both wholly unsuited to leadership. Boris is a lying toerag with the moral compass of a jellyfish. Starmer is a semi-human lawyer who sounds like a fully-automated HR manager. Both are political and intellectual lightweights. They lack vision, courage, clarity and mettle. Neither ought to be Prime Minister.

If that sounds too harsh, look at the country one of these men purports to lead and the other aims to lead. The UK is beset by a cost of living crisis, a housing crisis and a low-pay crisis. A recession seems all but inevitable and even if one can somehow be avoided, more years of stagnant growth might be the best we can hope for. Britain is arming one side of a European war against an imperial invader that weaponises poison on British soil with minimal consequences. The government has made such a fist of Brexit and immigration that they're enforcing a border in the Irish Sea but none in the English Channel. Despite Westminster refusing to grant permission, the Scottish government says it will hold a referendum on seceding from the UK next year, while Sinn Fein just won the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

Does either man look equal to these challenges? Even if we give Boris credit for his handling of Ukraine — and we should — neither he nor Starmer has given any indication of the wise statecraft, hard head, steely spirit or political bravery that would be required to resolve the broader array of problems. Who would replace them? There is no obvious candidate on either front bench, such is the dearth of political talent at Westminster right now, but getting rid of a hopeless prime minister and a listless leader of the opposition might spur the rest to buck up their ideas.