Durham story just Tory “mudslinging” ahead of local elections, Starmer says

Elliot Chappell
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Keir Starmer is weathering his own ‘partygate’ allegations this morning. Government ministers are frantically trying to draw attention to an event during the pandemic in Durham, at which the Labour leader was photographed drinking a beer, and have called on the police to reinvestigate the gathering in the wake of the fines issued to Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. At the time of the event, indoor socialising was banned. But the Labour leader said he was working at Durham Miners Hall as part of a campaigning visit and stopped for food before resuming work.

Starmer confirmed over the weekend that Angela Rayner was present, saying his office “made a mistake” when it initially said that the deputy leader was not. Starmer faced some further awkward questions this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He refused three times to say whether Durham police had contacted him since Conservative MPs requested last week that they reinvestigate the gathering. He maintained that “there weren’t any rules broken” and highlighted that “the police have looked into it”, putting the recent attention from Tory ministers down to simple “mudslinging” in advance of an election where “they have nothing to say on the issue that really matters to people”.

This analysis may well be correct; senior Conservatives are undoubtedly seizing on an opportunity to draw an equivalence between Starmer’s event and the many law-breaking social gatherings that the Prime Minister has been linked to in an effort to undermine one of Starmer’s favoured attack lines. Just as voters prepare to head to the polls on Thursday, they have a chance to confuse what was a clear narrative around the ‘partygate’ scandal and Johnson’s unfitness to lead. The problem for Labour is that the cynical political motivation makes the interventions from the Tories no less damaging. They will continue to use the Durham story to muddy the water.

ICYMI – Momentum announced the results of its policy primary on Friday, revealing that the group will be backing public ownership of key sectors at the 2022 Labour Party conference. Barry Gardiner MP has warned that Labour must not become “the preserve of a clique of the politically pure”. Labour Women’s Network co-founders Hilary De Lyon and Barbara Follett wrote for LabourList on the 25th anniversary of the 1997 general election on what the result meant for Labour women and how there is still more to do for women’s representation. And Labour in Communications has published a new report arguing that the party can pitch Starmer as an “antidote to the chaos of the Johnson years”.


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