When I joined the Labour Party in 1987, I saw it as a bulwark for truth and decency. It was the era of the notorious Section 28, which banned the supposed ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities, a Conservative policy that I regarded as bigoted and wrong.
I had my differences with Labour over the years and resigned my membership in 2010. When the extreme Left-winger Jeremy Corbyn became leader five years later, I did everything in my power to defeat the party. More recently, I have been relieved to see Labour take steps to return to sanity under Keir Starmer.
And I have always assumed that as a former director of public prosecutions, Sir Keir would be upstanding and honest – two vital qualities for a leader – and that Labour would be the same under his leadership.
But my faith in his honesty has taken a severe, possibly fatal, dent over his refusal to be open and transparent about the meal he enjoyed with colleagues in Durham last April.
I cannot reconcile what we know about the evening, and his refusal to answer basic questions about that night, with his claim that he has done nothing wrong.
Indeed, as I listened to him being interviewed on yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme, his failure to address the questions he was asked led to me to wonder if, as the former chief prosecutor, he had at the back of his mind the police caution given to anyone who is arrested: ‘You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’
Interviewer Martha Kearney asked a basic question about what is now known as ‘Beergate’ – the controversy over the allegation that he and his deputy leader, Angela Rayner, broke lockdown rules at a campaign event in Durham last year.
‘Has there been any contact with you or your office from Durham police, since Conservative MPs called for inquiries to be reopened?’ Miss Kearney demanded. It was a simple question that could and should have been answered with a straight yes or no. But at no point has Sir Keir been open or transparent about what actually happened that night.
Students filmed the Labour leader drinking in the office of one of his MPs while indoor socialising was banned
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is seen outside BBC as he does morning media round. Keir Starmer on morning media round, BBC, London, England, United Kingdom – 03 May 2022
Despite being asked the question repeatedly, he refused even to acknowledge it, let alone to answer – instead offering the irrelevant response that the police had already investigated the incident and cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Yes, we know that. The point now is that new evidence has since been unearthed by the Daily Mail. And the police have subsequently been asked to look again at whether there was indeed a breach of the law.
Yet Sir Keir is unwilling even to comment on whether the police have contacted him.
The natural reaction to his refusal to give a straight answer is to suspect he is hiding something. From the very start of this, Sir Keir and the Labour Party have behaved as if they take everyone else for idiots, deliberately obfuscating over what actually happened, refusing to answer direct questions or to give a full account. Worse than that, they misled everybody about the presence of Mrs Rayner, denying she was present until they were caught out.
Sir Keir says it was a ‘mistake’ – as if the presence of the party’s deputy leader was something everyone there on the night simply forgot about.
‘I don’t think anybody would seriously say Keir Starmer’s team would lie to the media about this,’ he insists.
It is risible – as if no one would dream that a politician and his staff would ever say something that wasn’t true.
When evidence first emerged of the Downing Street parties, Boris Johnson made things infinitely worse for himself by appearing not to give the full story straight away.
The drip-drip-drip of information allowed his enemies to gun for him. Sir Keir’s response was to call his opposite number a liar and demand his resignation: ‘I think the Prime Minister broke the law, I think he then lied about what had happened.’
Students who filmed the Labour leader drinking in the office of one of his MPs while indoor socialising was banned also photographed an unfamiliar black Land Rover Discovery parked outside
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Sir Keir’s accusation of lying should be directed straight back at him. So many questions are being left deliberately unanswered that the only rational response is that he and his team are trying to hide what happened.
Here is what we know for certain. In April 2021, the Tier 2 restrictions in Durham stated: ‘You must not socialise indoors except with your household or support bubble.’
We know that Sir Keir and Mrs Rayner drank beer and ate a meal indoors with people not from their respective household or support bubbles. Sir Keir says that this was fine, because the rules had an exemption for gatherings ‘reasonably necessary for the purposes of campaigning in an election’.
The video of him downing a beer was taken after 10pm. Sir
Keir says he went back to work after the beer and his meal. Really?
He is seriously telling us that everyone in the room had a takeaway and a drink late at night after a long day and then they all decided the best thing to do was start working again?
It’s not only implausible – there is not a shred of evidence to show any work was done after they had eaten. If it’s true, why won’t he tell us what work he did when he resumed work after the meal – or when he finally left to go back to his hotel? Was everyone else working when he started work again, or were they eating and drinking while he worked? Who else, exactly, was there?
Instead of answers to these crucial questions, Sir Keir offers only silence.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Sir Keir’s accusation of lying should be directed straight back at him
Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth attends a Service of Thanksgiving to mark the 73rd Anniversary of the NHS in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, England, UK on Monday 5 July, 2021
But the holes in his story get bigger by the day. Sir Keir also says he had no choice but to eat with his colleagues because he couldn’t get a meal at the hotel he was staying in.
The Mail has shown this is nonsense – the hotel made a point of offering room service for law-abiding guests who were following the rules by eating alone in their room. Sir Keir could remove all doubt about the truth of his story if he gave a full account of what happened backed up by evidence. In the absence of such evidence, however, it looks to be no more and no less than a social meal and a drink with colleagues after work – and so not remotely ‘necessary’. In other words, illegal under the Tier 2 rules.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was fined for turning up to a scheduled work meeting in the Cabinet room to find that a gathering was taking place, and not walking out. For that, Labour demanded his resignation. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
Sir Keir plainly thinks he can keep saying nothing and the fuss will die down. But the one thing voters cannot stomach is a politician who lies – so Sir Keir needs to come clean. It is difficult to imagine why he would let this story fester if he really has done nothing wrong and can prove it by answering questions, so it may well be he is covering up his own lawbreaking.
If that is the case then – on his own merciless standards – surely he must resign.
Or does he believe that the rules don’t apply to him?