Politics

Keir Starmer Braced For Durham Police Beergate Verdict As Rivals Hover

Keir Starmer could learn within days whether or not he has been fined for breaking lockdown rules, HuffPost UK has learned.

Durham Constabulary are preparing to finally deliver their verdict on the “beergate” saga which has hung over his leadership for weeks.

The force re-opened their investigation into whether Starmer breached anti-Covid laws on April 30, 2021, by eating a curry and drinking beer with Labour staff in the constituency office of City of Durham MP Mary Foy.

They are expected to deliver their verdict on whether the rules were broken either next week or the week after.

Starmer has vowed to resign as Labour leader if he is handed a fixed penalty notice, a move which would throw the party into chaos.

His deputy, Angela Rayner, who was also at the Durham event, has said she will stand down as well if she is fined.

Starmer has repeatedly said that no rules were broken, insisting those present were working and only stopped briefly to have some food and drink, and those around him remain confident that he will be exonerated.

Labour have also provided the police with a timeline setting out what Starmer did that day, including time-stamped videos and WhatsApp messages between his team.

Nevertheless, senior Labour sources have admitted to HuffPost UK that the saga has been “very destabilising” for Starmer’s operation.

One also accused some in the shadow cabinet of quietly launching unofficial leadership campaigns so they are ready should a vacancy arise.

“We always had people with leadership ambitions and questions about what comes after Keir,” said one frontbencher. “What this has done has enticed people into having an opinion on what the alternative to Keir is.

“Some colleagues have seen that and exploited the opportunity to run putative leadership campaigns.”

Insiders said Wes Streeting and Lisa Nandy – widely seen as the leading contenders should a leadership campaign take place – have been putting teams in place and reaching out to supporters in case Starmer falls on his sword.

Allies of them both deny this, however, with a friend of Nandy describing the claims as “complete nonsense”.

Meanwhile, a source close to Streeting said: “Keir has just won a thumping victory for Labour in Wakefield. Wes has been focused on holding the Conservatives to account for their appalling record on the NHS.

“Whoever is trying to stir up trouble should put away their wooden spoon and get on with the job.”

Other Labour figures say there has been “a crisis of confidence in the leadership team”, pointing to the party’s uncertain response to the RMT strikes as evidence.

Starmer’s office issued an edict that no frontbenchers should stand on picket lines, but this was ignored by four of them, who ended up escaping any punishment for defying the party leader.

Meanwhile, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy declared “this is not a moment for posturing and standing on picket lines”, sparking a furious reaction from unions and left-wing MPs.

“This was a completely unnecessary mess for Labour to get into,” said one party insider. “You simply blame the government for failing to sort it all out and say you’re on the side of working people. It’s not that difficult.”

Ghosts from Labour’s past have also been making their feelings known, most notably Peter Mandelson.

In the latest of a series of critical interventions on the leader’s performance, the Labour peer said “too many voters have no clear idea of who Starmer is – he needs to define himself before his opponents do it for him”.

One Labour source said: “It’s Mandy chucking bombs outside the tent because he’s not being listened to inside.”

New Labour bigwig Peter Mandelson

Claire Doherty via Getty Images

Others see the experience of the past few weeks as a positive for Starmer – assuming he emerges as leader at the end of it.

“What Durham has also done is unite and strengthen the team around Keir – people like [shadow chancellor] Rachel Reeves, [and campaign co-ordinators] Shabana Mahmood and Conor McGinn.

“They’ve been working intensely over the last few weeks to chart the course ahead. You can expect a blizzard of announcements designed to get Labour on the front foot on issues like immigration.

“We want Labour MPs to go away for the summer on a high and with a very detailed plan in place for keeping Tory ministers pinned down for the whole of recess.

“There’s also a sense that this has been a useful test run for what we can expect in an election campaign and so we’ve learned lessons from it and we will be better equipped when they come again.”

A spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said: “This is an ongoing police investigation and we do not plan to issue further comment until that investigation has reached a conclusion.”




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