Awarding themselves the unearned prize for moral superiority and assuming that the electorate will do so too is a crippling fault of the modern Labour party. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has just outed himself as a severe sufferer of the syndrome via the wounded tone he has taken over being questioned about the events of so-called ‘beergate Friday’ in April 2021.
In Starmer’s eyes, the venal Boris Johnson and his lackeys mock a nation by gorging on cake but when he and his entourage gather for beer and pizza in an indoor space it is merely a ‘pause for food’ and to suggest anything else amounts to ‘Tory mudslinging’. The lawyer Starmer’s distinction depends on the fact that the Prime Minister was slapped with a fixed penalty notice, while Durham Police decided that what he did was OK.
But a more acute political intelligence would see at once that this will not wash in the court of public opinion. Quite obviously Johnson and Rishi Sunak, who really was ‘ambushed by cake’, have been held to a far harsher legal standard than has been applied to Starmer. The electorate can see that.
Yet Starmer called for both Johnson and Sunak to quit over their fixed penalty notices despite knowing that the full truth about his own campaign-trail gathering had not come out.
For starters, Labour said its deputy leader Angela Rayner was not at the event when she was. This according to Starmer was a simple ‘mistake’ made in good faith. But has he ever conceded Johnson could have made simple mistakes in good faith about what constituted unlawful gatherings? Of course not.
Instead, he pushed the idea that the furore was highly revealing about the Prime Minister’s character, telling the Commons on the day of the original Sue Gray report:
“Rather than come clean, every step of the way he has insulted the public’s intelligence… Just as he has done throughout his life, he has damaged everyone and everything around him along the way.
Can Starmer be said to have ‘come clean’ about his own lockdown socialising? Hardly. He is still being evasive now about what exactly the ‘work’ was that his team supposedly returned to after beer and pizza had been consumed around 10 p.m. on a Friday night.
‘His colleagues have spent weeks defending the indefensible, touring the TV studios, parroting his absurd denials, degrading themselves,’ Starmer also told Johnson on Sue Gray day. Anyone who has seen the likes of David Lammy struggling recently to fend off perfectly reasonable questions about beergate would need the proverbial heart of stone not to find this funny in retrospect.
When Starmer was first questioned about beergate, back in January, he told the BBC’s Sophie Raworth: ‘If you’re trying to persuade anyone that stopping to have some food when you’re in the office all day working is a breach of the rules, it’s just not going to wash.’ Yet hasn’t such thinking been at the heart of his own relentless attacks on Johnson?
Starmer the lawyer may think he has winning answers to these questions. Were he a better politician, he would see immediately that he does not. He has been hoisted by his own petard and may soon crash land against some particularly unforgiving ramparts.