Having spent his entire time as Labour Party leader tailing the Tories, Keir Starmer suddenly wants to tell us he’s different. That’s what he said in a statement on Monday, when he promised to resign if police fine him for gathering under lockdown restrictions last year.
Starmer was filmed in April last year drinking and eating with others at an MP’s office while laws forbid indoor gatherings. That’s perhaps not on the same scale as Boris Johnson’s crimes who, along with other Tories, partied while people died.
But the accusations have stuck to Starmer because they feed on the sense held—rightly—among ordinary people that politicians are all the same. There’s one rule for them and another for us—and “them” includes Starmer.
Tellingly, Starmer had to take that on directly. He complained that the accusations were meant “to get the public to believe that all politicians are the same.” “I’m here to say that they’re not,” he said. It was a bid to show he’s different from Johnson, who’s been fined at least once for breaking lockdown restrictions after several Downing Street parties.
Starmer’s big problem is that everything he’s done shows he won’t be different from Johnson at all. On his very first day as Labour leader he pledged to have the “courage” to support the Tory government “in the national interest”. He has failed to put up a fight against the anti-refugee and anti-protest measures in the Tories’ Borders and Nationality and Police and Crime bills, or to demand serious climate action.
Most damagingly of all, in the face of a cost of living social emergency and a Tory Party mired in crisis, Starmer has been useless. Over the cost of living, the Labour Party only calls for minor relief from some people’s energy bills. And he tried desperately to make the partygate scandal a question of law and order.
His whole strategy has been about proving his Labour is a more respectable party of business than the Tories. As the local elections show, this utterly failed to convince people that Labour offered any real alternative. And now that strategy has ended in farce—the only person who resigns out of the Tory party’s crisis could be the Labour Party’s leader.
Media pundits and Starmer’s supporters now debate whether he’s being cunningly clever, or fatally foolish. Either way, he’s letting the Tories off the hook. The focus of the partygate scandal is no longer the Tories’ contempt for ordinary people, but the games and machinations of politicians in Westminster. In that sense, politicians really are all the same—and Labour is no alternative.
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