Analysis: The Last Thing The Tories Want Is For Keir Starmer To Resign Over Beergate

Despite a devastating set of local election results, many Tories were cock-a-hoop on Friday night.

With exquisite timing, Durham Constabulary had announced that they would, after all, be re-opening their investigation into whether Keir Starmer broke lockdown rules by having curry and a beer with colleagues in April, 2021.

After weeks of miserable headlines over lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street, during which time the Labour leader had repeatedly called on Boris Johnson to resign, it was a chance for the Conservatives to finally get back on the front foot.

Many of them grabbed that opportunity with both hands, gleefully pointing out that it would be the height of hypocrisy were Starmer not to abide by the standards he had set others and pledge to quit if handed a fixed penalty notice.

They included senior cabinet figures like Nadine Dorries as well as foreign office minister James Cleverly.

But not for the first time, they had not really thought through the consequences of what they were saying.

Just imagine for a moment what would happen were Starmer to be fined and then announce his resignation.

It would undoubtedly be hugely disruptive for Labour, who would again be thrown into a divisive leadership contest at a time when they should be focusing all their energies on holding the prime minister and his government to account.

But it would also throw the spotlight back onto the PM’s repeated refusal to resign, despite the fact that he has been fined for attending a birthday party for himself in the Cabinet Office and there may well be further sanctions to come.

People would rightly ask why it was right for the leader of the opposition to go, but not Johnson as well.

As Patrick Maguire of The Times has revealed, more sensible Tories are aware of the dangers and discussing whether the party should tone down its attacks on Starmer.

As David Simmonds MP told other members of the Tories’ 2019 intake in a WhatsApp group: “The only ‘good’ outcome I can see is if Starmer is fined and doesn’t resign. Any other outcome just makes us look worse by comparison.”

This also explains why Jacob Rees-Mogg also suggested to Andrew Neil that Starmer need not resign even if he is fined.

He said: “I think he should pay a fine and then talk about the issues of great importance to the nation.”

Of course, Durham police may well stick to their original conclusion that no rules were broken by the Labour leader, who will then be able to turn his fire on the PM once again.

But if they overturn their decision and decide he did contravene the law as it stood at the time, it will be devastating for him – but could well end up being fatal for Boris Johnson as well.

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