Q&A: Key questions Keir Starmer faces about office beer during lockdown | Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer was asked in media interviews on Tuesday about an event at which he was pictured holding a beer in April last year, and whether it potentially broke Covid rules at the time. Here’s what we know:

What happened?

On April 30, 2021, Starmer was filmed through a window in the office of Durham City MP, Mary Foy, holding a bottle of beer, with people behind him eating from plates of food. The Labor leader was there as part of the campaign for the by-election in nearby Hartlepool, which was taking place six days later.

The images emerged in January this year, during a media focus on lockdown-breaking parties in and around Downing Street.

Did it break any rules?

While the Covid rules necessarily imply some interpretation, the legal and police consensus seems not. Political campaigning was allowed ahead of local elections, which took place on the same day as the by-election, allowing rallies of party activists. Starmer said footage shows activists crashing for take-out, and with pubs and restaurants closed it was the only option if they were going to eat.

Lawyer and Covid rules expert Adam Wagner said this would be similar to co-workers eating in a work canteen and would therefore be considered ‘reasonably necessary for the job’. Wagner compared it to seemingly pre-arranged social events in Downing Street for which Boris Johnson and others were fined.

What do the police say?

In February, Durham Police said there was no reason to take action over Starmer’s behaviour. More recently, the force said it had received “a number of other communications” about it to which it will respond, but that there is no ongoing investigation.

Asked on Tuesday whether he had been personally contacted by police, Starmer appeared to dodge the question, but Labor said no.

Why is this in the news again?

Two words: Daily Mail. The newspaper ran a series of headlines about the case, led by Tory MPs calling for a fresh inquiry into what they insist is the equivalent of the parties inside Downing Street and evidence of the Labor hypocrisy.

The Mail is highly influential in Conservative circles, and its particularly dogged coverage – some have called it obsessive – has prompted more MPs and ministers to comment.

Why did Labor first say Angela Rayner wasn’t here?

This is one of the Mail’s big problems, but it was apparently a pretty standard press office. Party sources say the Mail was asked a few weeks ago if the deputy leader was attending the event, and a member of staff misunderstood the newspaper’s records and said she was elsewhere . It wasn’t until the Mail asked again and officials checked that they realized the mistake had been made.

Rayner’s presence or absence would apparently make no difference to the legal situation.

What was the political reaction?

Some ultra-loyal ministers, including Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, have asked Starmer to answer more questions about the event. Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, said on Tuesday she would “absolutely encourage” Durham Police to look into any new evidence that may emerge. Starmer said the story was “being muddied by conservatives.”

Does the public care?

It may be just the beginning, but apparently not much so far. In January, a YouGov poll question on whether or not Starmer “generally followed the lockdown rules”, 40% thought Labor did and 28% did not. The same question asked again on Tuesday revealed that 28% still didn’t think so – but 42% thought so now. In contrast, 70% of people now think Johnson generally didn’t follow the rules.

Leave a Comment