How ‘Beergate’ put Keir Starmer in a sticky spot just as voters head to the polls

The Downing Street party scandal has been a boon to Labor since it broke late last year.

Barely a week has passed without new developments in the lockdown-breaking scandal in and around Number 10.

Boris Johnson’s personal poll ratings have plummeted, as have those of the Conservatives, as voters express their anger.

Even Rishi Sunak has lost his shine after receiving a fine from the Metropolitan Police for attending a Prime Minister’s birthday party in the Cabinet Room on June 19, 2020.

But that priceless political capital gifted to Labor now risks going to waste as Keir Starmer finds himself defending himself against his own accusations of breaking covid laws.

It also raised questions about the Labor leader’s ability to get out of a bind when tabloids aggressively pursue him.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for Starmer, with voters across the UK heading to the polls tomorrow.

When a grainy photo of Starmer drinking a bottle of beer while campaigning in Durham first surfaced a year ago, it was met with little fanfare. Starmer explained that he and his team had stopped to order takeout before heading back to work.

Confirmation from Durham Police that they were satisfied no rules were broken seemed to suggest the case was closed.

But a trickle-down stream of new details, including the fact that as many as 30 people may have attended and a £200 Indian takeaway was ordered at 9pm have inevitably followed.

Party sources also expressed frustration at the way the story was handled, citing Starmer’s refusal earlier this week to answer basic questions about whether Durham police had spoken to him. Labor later confirmed that they had not.

A party insider told HuffPost UK that he believed Lynton Crosby, Johnson’s Australian polling guru, was “eating Keir alive” over what the right-wing press has dubbed “beergate.”

“Lynton Crosby is behaving like a fox in the roost, crushing Labour’s amateur and out-of-depth communications operation across his Belgravia tennis court,” they said.

“It’s classic Crosby: kill your opponent’s cat and throw it in the face.

“Labor now look exactly like the Tories and they can’t get their message across days before local elections.”

Another source suggested the party needed to try harder and be clearer about the difference between Starmer’s situation and the No.10 matches being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.

“We had a curry and a beer while we worked, they brought a bag of booze, and they held a mock press conference where they joked about their wine and cheese party,” they said.

“We were working, they were in the whip as loved ones died without their families around them.

“It’s completely different and the only reason anyone tries to say something different is because the Conservative Party doesn’t want to talk about why people can’t pay their bills.

“Keir should go after them, but that kind of attack isn’t his strong point.

“This is the conservative political operation: create a stench of wrongdoing, even if there isn’t, and that will keep real issues off the table.”

When HuffPost UK spoke to Starmer about beergate on the campaign trail, he made it clear that he felt no rules had been broken.

“We were working in the office, it was a few days before the elections, we had a lunch break, we continued,” he said.

“No rule breaking, no party, the police looked at it months ago and decided there was nothing wrong, and that’s it.”

Adding to the Labor Party’s headache is the unequivocal stance it has taken on Met Police fines.

After Johnson and Sunak received fixed penalty calls, Starmer asked them both to leave.

Sunak, by some, has been seen as a misdeed, given that according to his account, he stumbled upon the birthday reunion by accident while waiting to attend another reunion.

If Starmer thinks that calls for a resignation, then his beer in Durham probably does too.

Some allies believe that Starmer’s reputation as a former chief prosecutor will ultimately help bolster his reputation as a lawmaker and not a lawbreaker.

While Johnson has a reputation for playing fast and loose with the truth, Starmer is known for his seriousness.

“Keir was sincere when he said it was just smear,” one ally said. “He was DPP, he is not going to actively bend any rules or laws. The police have not been in contact.

“Keir was saying, in a very legalistic sense, that the case is closed.”

Voters will decide on Thursday if they share the same verdict or if this latest episode confirms the suspicion that all politicians are the same.

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