What Keir Starmer should have said, but didn’t, was that he had indeed drunk some beer in a frowsy Labour party constituency office, but that he had not remotely enjoyed it. This would have had the advantage of being true, for a start: even through the blurred window you can see the Labour leader’s face etched in misery as he shares a comradely pint with some typical party activists — Roz Harridan, Loretta (formerly Dave) Spart and bum-fluff Oli from the youth wing — in Durham. Thing is, I remember having drinks with comrades when I was in the Labour party and they were never much fun, just tiresome evenings in which everyone tried to out-pious each other. No ribald jokes (such as ‘Why did the feminist cross the road? – Because I told her to’), no laddish banter and don’t even think about trying to pull a chick.
It is not really on to have a good time if you are a Labour member. How can you, when Palestine is still under the jackboot of Zionist oppression and Tory scum are murdering pensioners? And then there is the disposition of Sir Keir himself who seems to find all manifestations of humanity, such as having a drink with friends, a fraught and painful business to be undertaken only when absolutely necessary, an obstacle course which one can enjoy only once it has been successfully completed. So, that’s what he should have said — ‘I drank some beer but hated every minute of it’ — and we might have had some sympathy.
Instead the idiot did exactly what Boris had done and insisted he hadn’t broken any rules, technically. This doesn’t work as a defence, because no matter what the technicalities, the public has a memory of May 2020 and drinking beer with friends was definitely not part of it. Starmer was hoist by his own petard. I suspect an awful lot of the Labour party’s anger is due to the sheer joylessness of its members. They cannot bear to see people happy, because that would be a betrayal of the cause. And so they are infuriated by drinks parties where people seem to be having a good time — much as their anger is invoked when they hear that the Prime Minister has gone somewhere nice for his holidays, rather than doing as Margaret Beckett was wont to do and spend a vacation sitting in a fold-up chair outside a caravan by a canal near Wakefield in the drizzle eating a ham sandwich with her spouse.
I think this predisposition towards misery was occasioned by Karl Marx’s utopian vision of how the working class would live their lives under true communism — toiling all morning and reading Plato in the afternoon. Not getting pissed, spunking your dosh on Betfair, going to the match or out on the pull, you will note. Perhaps Angela Rayner could incorporate Marx’s vision when she launches future attacks against the PM. ‘Was you readin’ Plato or not?’ (Incidentally, Angela, I too was reared in a working-class northern family but have so far resisted speaking in the manner of a sink-estate slattern whose pit bull has just eaten a toddler. Grotesque inarticulacy should not be a source of pride.)
That the public is angry with Boris Johnson is beyond doubt. The woman on the till at my local Marks & Spencer told me that her first grandchild was born during the original lockdown and that she was, for three months, unable to visit the baby who lived only a street away. Instead she stood on the pavement outside her daughter’s house, waving rather forlornly. Everyone I speak to has a similar story and everyone is similarly furious. But I wonder how much of the fury is occasioned by the fact that Boris went to a drinks party in his garden and how much is down to the retrospective suspicion that the public were taken for mugs in 2020 — and that we were mad to have gone along with it all.
I was in favour of the first lockdown, in general, and actually miss elements of it today. It was a gloriously peaceful time and to be freed from the requirement of travelling up to London to have fatuous meetings with people I didn’t like improved my life considerably. The wildlife was abundant and the roads mercifully quiet. I also thought — and still think — that given the rapid spread of the virus and its injuriousness to the elderly, some form of government-imposed regimen was necessary.
But 2020 has not so receded from our minds that we have forgotten the full panoply of ‘advice’ from the government. Allowed out to do our shopping once a week, or better still, once a fortnight? Allowed one hour’s exercise per day — like an imprisoned nonce — and permitted to sit on a bench only for ten minutes halfway through your constitutional? Coppers harassing dog-walkers for daring to be in a park and the kids’ playground equipment all locked up? Banned from seeing anybody? My local farm shop moved from tape on the floor showing where people had to walk to refusing to let anybody in at all. Instead, they had a table out the front manned by staff wearing plastic bags over their shoes because the Daily Mail reported that Covid loved to cling on to the soles of shoes. Hand sanitiser which was of no consequence whatsoever?
By and large we all went along with it and some even started banging saucepans together in support of the bloody awful NHS. The ruling elite, though, never quite bought it. Their response was proportionate and guided by common sense — recognising that a socially distanced party outside in warm weather was of scant threat. But we were not allowed to be proportionate: that, then, is the real source of the public anger.