A occasion chief trying to get their message out forward of native elections solely to be pissed off by repeated questions on Covid breaches throughout lockdown. This was how Tory and Labour strategists alike anticipated Boris Johnson’s electoral marketing campaign to play out. Only with at some point to go till polling day, it’s really Keir Starmer on the receiving finish.
These days the Labour chief can’t get via an interview with out being pressed on “Beergate” – an incident final April when he was pictured ingesting a beer indoors in Durham with Labour workers whereas the remainder of England was underneath stage 2 Covid guidelines (that means no socialising outdoors of your individual family or bubble).
Starmer has insisted that every one guidelines have been adopted and that it was a piece occasion. However, the Tories are on a marketing campaign to attract equivalence between that occasion and the birthday cake occasion that Johnson and his chancellor Rishi Sunak have been fined over. Richard Holden, the MP for North West Durham and a former political adviser, is main efforts to get the police to re-examine the case (after they discovered there had been no wrongdoing earlier this 12 months).
On Tuesday’s Today programme Starmer refused not as soon as however 4 occasions to say whether or not Durham police had been again in contact over the occasion. On Wednesday‘s Good Morning Britain he confirmed the police had not contacted him and offered a full account of the night, insisting curry was ordered as restaurants were closed and people “at various points” ate the curry and “got on with their work”. It doesn’t assist issues that Labour has needed to change its line relating to Angela Rayner’s attendance on the occasion.
Starmer’s frustration on the line of questioning is obvious for all to see. But for the Tories, Beergate couldn’t come at a greater time. On the WhatsApp group of loyal Boris Johnson supporters – arrange on the peak of Partygate to bolster assist for the prime minister – “Labour hypocrisy” is the dialogue level of the day – with MPs encouraging each other to push it.
The tradition secretary, and Johnson loyalist, Nadine Dorries has been out on the entrance foot – declaring on social media: “The man who wants to one day be Prime Minister cannot behave like this. He has a responsibility to be open, honest and transparent with the public #Beergate.”
For the majority of Tory MPs, there may be little equivalence between Starmer ingesting a beer and essentially the most critical allegations towards the prime minister from an alleged occasion within the No 10 flat to the notorious BYOB bash within the backyard. This is partly why when the story first emerged earlier this 12 months it gained little traction.
However, the truth that the one occasion Johnson has been fined for therefore far concerned a birthday cake between work conferences, implies that MPs within the centre of the occasion are actually prepared to embrace it.
There’s a way that Starmer has overplayed his hand. When Johnson and Sunak obtained a set penalty discover for attending an occasion at work with birthday cake between conferences, he was fast to name for each the prime minister and the chancellor to resign.
“He called for the chancellor to resign when he was five minutes early to a meeting,” says a Tory MP within the centre of the occasion. “They set their own bar and now they have fallen victim to it.”
Another cause Tory aides are pushing the story so onerous is that it’s serving to to neuter Labour’s Partygate assaults. Labour politicians showing within the media are much more more likely to concentrate on different points – corresponding to the price of residing – for concern of being questioned about beergate in the event that they try to go on Johnson’s Covid rule breaking.
For the Tory occasion, an important factor the row has carried out is given MPs one thing to say on Partygate. Other than extremely loyalists, the majority of MPs have been staying silent on the problem of events for concern of extra popping out – whether or not that’s additional fines or an embarrassing picture. Now they’ve a holding place – they’ll partake in a very good little bit of “whataboutery” within the hope it should depart some voters to conclude that they’ll merely keep at house relatively than solid an anti-Tory protest vote.
It’s a line that has its limits. “It’s essentially: ‘all politicians are as bad as each other’,” says a senior Tory. It might additionally quickly be outdated if fines for extra critical occasions come up the observe – such because the alleged Downing Street flat occasion (the occasion that worries authorities aides most).
But for now, with the Tories braced for a dismal exhibiting on Thursday, something that derails or dampens Starmer’s efforts is the order of the day.