Miners, trade unionists, Leftie students and an endless parade of politicians waging class war: Durham’s heart beats proudly with the red blood of socialism.
The north-eastern city last returned a Tory to Westminster in 1918. And even today, the local MP works out of offices within Durham Miners Hall, a magnificent temple to Left-wing solidarity – and now an alleged crime scene.
Miners Hall is where Keir Starmer is alleged to have broken lockdown rules on April 30 last year – glugging beer and munching curry in a group of about 30 people in defiance of the law of the land at the time. As the evidence piles up against the Labour leader’s implausible claims about his activities that night – specifically whether it was a legal work meeting or an illegal social gathering – Durham’s deep-rooted Labour loyalties appear to be on full display.
From MPs to the crime-fighting forces within the city, a wall of silence and obfuscation has sprung up to protect the leader from criticism, investigation and any punishment he might deserve.
So who are the Labour figures in Durham allegedly protecting Starmer? ANDREW PIERCE examines the evidence…
Denial: Mary Foy MP, circled, at the event with Keir Starmer
THE ‘DRUNK’ MP
The most powerful figure in the local Labour Party is Mary Foy, MP for the City of Durham. The gathering took place in her constituency office at Miners Hall, after she had been campaigning with Starmer in the Hartlepool by-election that day. We know she was there.
Foy has stubbornly refused to answer questions about her presence at the curry night, instead referring reporters to Labour’s central press office. Not that they’re much help – the office initially denied Starmer’s deputy Angela Rayner had also been present, before admitting last week (in a supposedly ‘honest mistake’ after video evidence emerged) that, er, she had been there after all.
On the far-Left of her party, Foy was elected in 2019. She backed the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey in the 2020 leadership election.
The MP appears to be feeling the pressure over Beergate. Last week she launched into what witnesses called a ‘drunken tirade’ on the Commons terrace against Richard Holden, the Tory MP leading calls for the police to investigate Starmer further.
Three witnesses have said they saw Foy vent her fury at Holden, who is MP for nearby North West Durham, at about 10pm.
Foy then allegedly grabbed him by the arm with both hands and tried to drag him across the terrace before staff restrained her. Holden said he had received a written apology from Foy for what he called ‘her unacceptable, drunken behaviour’.
Endorsement: Sir Keir with police commissioner Joy Allen
As Durham’s elected police and crime commissioner – on a salary of over £71,000 – Joy Allen often makes public pronouncements on crimes committed on her patch, including littering, anti-social behaviour and road safety. But she has had surprisingly little to say about Starmer’s apparent law-breaking.
Allen’s official website claims her role is to ‘hold the [police] force to account’ – so why isn’t she holding the force accountable for their failure to investigate Starmer? She might be expected to take a keen interest in the claims against him – except she has been a member of the Labour Party for 27 years and has posted on her website a photo in which Starmer urges people to vote for her.
Asked what role Allen or her office might have played in the initial police decision to take no action against Starmer, her spokesman insisted: ‘None at all. We were just informed. It was an operational matter for the force.’
…AND HER CHUM
PCC Allen’s second-in-command is Nigel Bryson, who happens to be a long-standing friend of hers. They met, inevitably, through the Labour Party and she has attracted criticism for appointing him without advertising. Challenged over this failure to vet anyone else, she said: ‘I’ve got somebody who knows everything about me as a candidate… I could go through the process but it would just be possibly going through the motions.’ So that’s all right then.
Takeaway: Mary Foy with staff from The Capital restaurant
THE CURRY HOUSE
The Capital is one of Durham’s finest Indian restaurants and this week it emerged its delivery driver had dropped off a ‘£200′ feast for the gathering, including biryanis, tikka masalas, rice and naan breads. The driver initially told the Daily Mail there were ’30 or so people’ inside – but bizarrely later insisted he had no recollection of making the delivery.
Yet the curry house has been known to have friendly relations with Durham’s Labour machine.
In May 2020, during the first lockdown, local MP Foy hailed it for supplying meals to NHS workers and posed for photographs with head chef Syed Islam.
Bordering Foy’s constituency is North Durham, with MP Kevan Jones. He has also remained silent about the night in question – and this isn’t surprising.
A leading figure in the local Labour community, Jones himself has broken lockdown laws – not once, but twice. The first breach came on May 7, 2020, when he took part in a group photo shoot in his constituency, promoting artwork in praise of the NHS. A noble cause – but the rules about socialising were clear. Jones committed another breach three days later.
A video shows him attending an indoor party for 100-year-old veteran Frederick Herron, allegedly attended by about 40 people. Who would begrudge a hero centenarian a fitting celebration? Nobody – except Starmer and Labour have consistently claimed that the law should have been upheld.
Asked yesterday about his lockdown breaches, Jones said he would ‘rather not comment’.
Durham Police has drawn stern criticism for failing to investigate Starmer thoroughly over his seemingly flagrant lockdown-breaking. Little wonder – officers from the constabulary were also pictured at Mr Herron’s party.
In a time before vaccines, lockdown rules were to protect elderly individuals such as Mr Herron.
But that didn’t stop Durham police from attending – and ironically under the circumstances – to ensure that the law was followed. On June 6, 2020, a complaint was made to Durham police’s standards department about the officers’ failure to challenge the organisers – who included a Labour county councillor. Four days later, the department decided – surprise, surprise – to take no action.
Of course, the police must remain politically neutral – but the force’s refusal to investigate Starmer looks iniquitous when London’s Metropolitan police pursued Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and other Tories with a wildly expensive investigation, slapping fines on more than 50 people. As the Ancient Romans once wondered, who guards the guards themselves?
Additional reporting: Richard Marsden