Mr Rules may be undone by his own integrity over Beergate

Bernard Ponsonby suspects the Labour leader values his integrity above self-interest.

Sir Keir Starmer may be undone by his own integrity over Beergate Getty Images
Starmer: Labour leader may be undone by his own rules.

That tenth rate burglary at the Watergate complex all those years ago has a lot to answer for.  It ended the Presidency of Richard Nixon. Quite right too, for tricky Dicky was certainly guilty of impeachable offences.

More prosaically, since those events, anything in the political world with a whiff of impropriety is inevitably defined with the suffix ‘gate’, as in Watergate. It has been a cue for tortuous titles.

Boris Johnson of course is mired in Partygate.

And now, the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, in Beergate. If the pun tortures language sensibilities I suppose insult could have been added to injury with Currygate. Currygate, Beergate, just pick your gate.

That Mr Johnson is guilty of law breaking has been established. The only question now is, how often? He might yet be given the order of the boot by Tory MPs although I suspect any kicking of the ample Prime Ministerial jacksie will be out of a belief that he is a busted flush with the voters.

Since brazenness, allied to a regular polishing of the Prime Ministerial brass neck is now a survival style, it is clear he won’t voluntarily resign. That is simply not his way.

Now whatever the merits of Starmergate, sorry Beergate, it is not quite on a par with Johnson’s elastic approach to the rules. The problem for the lawyerly Sir Keir is that he is, as one front-bench colleague admitted yesterday, ‘Mr Rules’.

From Brexit to Covid laws, the Leader of the Opposition sometimes gives the impression of mistaking the House of Commons for one of England’s higher courts. He is forensic, something of a pedant in the articulation of clauses and sub clauses and a details man that would shame an ordinary details man.

And that’s his problem with Beergate. It’s the details, the rules that could end up impeaching Mr Rules. The Durham constabulary will determine if his bottle of beer and carry out curry with colleagues was a legitimate work meeting or a breach of Covid protocols.

If it happens to be the latter then I can’t possibly see how he remains as Labour Leader. Personally, I think this one event leading to resignation would be absurd and wholly disproportionate to any offence.

However, Starmer’s problem is simple. He regards law breaking by the Prime Minister as a resignation matter. He cannot in all conscience hold himself to a lower standard even if it ends in the absurdity of his resignation. 

Starmer, I believe, is troubled by issues like conscience and therefore I would be surprised if he adopts a Johnsonian approach to his personal survival. He will see the logic of his own position dictates that he should go.

Hindsight probably tells us that Sir Keir overplayed his hand too early in the Partygate saga. It would have been more appropriate to establish a pattern of behaviour before calling on Johnson to quit rather than after the first stench of wrong doing. That however is an easy judgement to make given his present predicament.

His problems increased yesterday by a leak to the Daily Mail indicating Beergate was pre-planned and suggesting this was a breach of the rules. Clearly, some within Labour hate their Leader so much that the Mail is regarded as the conduit of choice to help the cause of socialism.

It is of course a great truth of politics that your implacable foes are on your own side. The Prime Minster knows that and so too does the Leader of the Opposition.

If the police decide that there was no breach of the rules then Sir Keir is in the clear. If a fixed penalty notice comes his way, then the rules for which he has such a feel will force a crisis for his leadership. If he soldiers on in such circumstances then the charge of hypocrite will stick.

I suspect Starmer values his integrity above self-interest. A breach of the law by Mr Rules will simply be too much for him. It will be an awful price to pay for being too straight for your own good.