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Fraser Nelson

Starmer is caught in a web of his own words

Starmer is caught in a web of his own words
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I’ve so far found it hard to get outraged about Keir Starmer’s curry with staffers after a campaigning event in April last year. For the boss to buy in a curry for his local activists during the visit is a decent and human thing to do. I’d not condemn anyone for it. But this is politically tricky for Starmer for three reasons:

  1. Starmer was not a voice of moderation on lockdown. He was always calling for an even tougher regime than that which the Tories needlessly imposed. As Opposition leader, I'd say, he had not only the option but the duty to oppose a cruel and draconian policy that gratuitously criminalised harmless, everyday acts.
  2. Starmer did not change his mind on lockdown. As he sat down for that curry, he should have thought: should I really have voted for this to be illegal? Or at very least put decent people in a bizarre situation where they need to invent a story about going back to work after 10pm, in order to dodge a potential police investigation? As Opposition leader, Starmer could and should have spoken out for the many who thought that it was time to leave people to their own judgement and decriminalise lockdown rules. He was right to judge that his offering a curry and a beer to his hardworking team posed no Covid risk. But he was wrong not to use his position to speak up against the obviously-crazy rules which were needlessly criminalising a great many people. Maybe even him
  3. Starmer called for Sunak to resign over that birthday cake. Thus establishing a principle: if a frontbench politician unwittingly breaks the rules – as Rishi Sunak did - he should walk the plank. It's hard for Starmer not to apply the test to himself. 

This top-flight lawyer is now being caught in a web of his own words. This is precisely the kind of mess you’d think a former Director of Public Prosecutions would not get caught up in. Why offer so many verbal hostages to fortune?  Here’s what he has said, vs what we now know:

'In Durham, all restaurants and pubs were closed, so takeaways really were the only way you could eat.'  Not so. Plenty places were open – newspapers now print maps of them: below from The Sun. Team Starmer could have had dinner in any number of places: but in only groups of six, as per the ridiculous law that Starmer demanded and voted for. 

"All restaurants and pubs were closed" says Starmer. Below, The Sun maps the ones that were open

'At various points people went through to the kitchen, got a plate, had something to eat, and got on with their work.' So why has the Sunday Times got an eyewitness saying there was no work, just 15 folk enjoying curry and beer?

"We were working in the office, it was just before elections, we were busy, we paused for food … there was no party, no rules were broken, that is the long and the short of it." (Video here.) If he just "paused for food" how come the leaked memo shows a curry being scheduled to start at 8.40pm and finish at 10pm with no work scheduled afterwards? And what of the picture (below) of him swigging beer at 10.04pm?

Starmer drinking beer at 10.04pm. Was this really a "pause for food" before going back to work?

The Met said there would be no more disclosures on the (far more egregious) No. 10 parties until after the local elections. We may get a renewed flurry of fines and revelations next week. If so, Starmer is in no position to capitalise on this: through his own avoidable errors he is now facing a battle for his own survival as party leader. 

Again, I don't think Starmer should resign for this - and the Tory MPs who say that he should need to be sure that their own lockdown record is impeccable. But I hope this debacle makes Labour conclude that it should never again call for - or vote for - the lockdowns whose calamitous after-effects were always going to include such political problems.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is editor of The Spectator

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