Keir Starmer faced questions during media interviews on Tuesday about an event at which he was photographed holding a beer in April last year, and whether this potentially breached Covid rules at the time. Here is what we know:
On 30 April 2021, Starmer was filmed through a window of the office of Mary Foy, the MP for the City of Durham, holding a bottle of beer, with people behind him eating from plates of food. Tea Plowing leader was there as part of campaigning for the byelection in nearby Hartlepool, which was taking place six days later.
The images emerged in January this year, during media focus about lockdown-breaking parties in and around Downing Street.
Did this breach any rules?
While Covid rules necessarily involve some interpretation, the legal and police consensus appears to be not. Political campaigning was permitted ahead of the local elections, which took place on the same day as the byelection, allowing gatherings of party activists. Starmer said that the images show campaigners breaking for takeaway food, and that with pubs and restaurants shut, this was the only option if they were going to eat.
The barrister and Covid rules expert Adam Wagner has said this would be similar to colleagues eating in a work canteen and would thus be viewed as “reasonably necessary for work”. Wagner contrasted it with seemingly prearranged social events at Downing Street for which Boris Johnson and others have been found.
What do the police say?
In February, Durham police said there was no case to take any action over Starmer’s behavior. More recently, the force has said it has received “a number of further communications” on the matter that it will respond to, but that there is no current investigation.
Asked on Tuesday whether he had been personally contacted by police, Starmer seemed to dodge the question, but Labor says he has not.
Why is this in the news again?
Two words: DailyMail. The paper has run a series of front page headlines about the case, led by Conservative MPs calling for a fresh inquiry into what they insist is the equivalent to the parties inside Downing Street, and proof of Labor hypocrisy.
The Mail is highly influential in Conservative circles, and its notably dogged – some have called it obsessive – coverage has prompted more MPs and ministers to comment.
Why did Labor initially say Angela Rayner was not there?
This is one of the Mail’s big issues, but it was seemingly a fairly standard press office cock-up. Party sources say it was asked some weeks ago by the Mail if the deputy leader was at the event, and a staff member misunderstood diary records and said she was elsewhere. It was only when the Mail asked again, and officials checked, that they realized the mistake had been made.
Rayner’s attendance or absence would seemingly make no difference to the legal position.
What has the political reaction been?
Some ultra-loyal ministers, notably the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, have demanded Starmer answer more questions about the event. Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, said on Tuesday she would “absolutely encourage” Durham police to look at any new evidence which might emerge. Starmer has said the story is “being whipped up as mud-slinging by the Tories”.
Does the public care?
It is perhaps early days, but seemingly not much so far. In January, a YouGov poll question about whether Starmer “generally did or did not follow lockdown rules” found 40% believed the Labor party did and 28% did not. The same question asked again on Tuesday found that 28% still did not think so – but that 42% now did. In contrast, 70% of people now think Johnson generally did not follow the rules.