ALL politicians live in glass houses. They throw stones at their opponents and, inevitably, have to be prepared to be on the receiving end when the disfavour is returned. Events mean no one inhabits the high moral ground for very long.

For such a cautious man as Sir Keir Starmer, his decision to resign if fined over “beergate” seemed at first to be an uncharacteristically huge gamble.

However, on reflection, it was probably the only decision England’s former Director of Public Prosecutions could have taken to maintain his political credibility.

If, during the coming weeks of constant questioning, he either continually dodged the issue or said he wouldn’t resign, after repeatedly having called on Boris Johnson to do so, the Labour knight would have looked gutless; confirming he was not prepared to meet the standards bar he had set for others.

Ever since Allegra Stratton, the ex-No 10 aide, joked about Downing Street staff having parties that broke the lockdown rules, which the rest of us religiously stuck to, the Labour leadership has planted itself on the high ground, calling repeatedly for the PM to do the honourable thing and resign.

Of course, even after he was found to have misled Parliament by breaking the law and was then fined for it, Johnson simply shrugged it off and insisted what the public was more concerned about was policy delivery not political integrity.

Indeed, yesterday as the heart of the UK Government was loaded with more Covid fines and more opprobrium, Johnson smirked and simply waved away questions about the latest batch of penalty notices, saying he was, “sure we’ll have plenty to say about that when the thing’s finished”.

This past weekend, the Tories, and their supporters in the media, were gleeful, believing Starmer had been hoisted on his own petard of sanctimony.

They didn’t consider the Labour chief would put his career on the line for a bottle of beer and yet, in a dramatic twist, he and his deputy, Angela Rayner, did just that and upped the ante massively. Having taken the high moral ground, they resolved to stay firmly on it.

Starmer insisted he believed in “honour, integrity and the principle that those who make the laws must follow them,” explaining: “Politicians who undermine that principle, undermine trust in politics, undermine our democracy and undermine Britain.”

He again claimed that no Covid laws had been broken during campaigning last year in Durham but then added if fined, he “would, of course, do the right thing and step down”. Ditto Rayner.

Later, party sources insisted they could refute the notion that the Labour team had not continued to work once the curry and beer had been consumed thanks to time-stamped logs of WhatsApp chats, video edits and documents.

But, regrettably, we now live in a Trumpian dimension, where no statement is ever taken at face value but interpreted by opponents to mean the very opposite of what was intended.

Some Conservatives, having doubted Starmer would have the guts to accept he would have to resign if fined, had to come up with a new line of attack when he announced he would do just that.

So, they claimed the move they had dared the Labour leader to take was now somehow deeply cynical because…he had taken it. His decision was sneakily designed to pressure the police into not fining him. Doing the honourable thing had become dishonourable.

Looking ahead, Tory HQ has flagged up a new line of attack: Durham Police concluding Starmer did break the Covid law but it would just give him a ticking off; meaning, under the terms of his own pledge, he would not have to resign.

But, of course, Scotland Yard had a similar non-interventionist policy until the political pressure over partygate hit red and forced a U-turn.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, Johnson could be fined again; there are 12 alleged social gatherings under investigation. And, last but by no means least, there remains the publication of the full Gray report to come.

Imagine the response, if Starmer were fined and resigned while Johnson was fined again but didn’t.

But also imagine if the police concluded the Labour leader hadn’t broken the rules. The Opposition would be on the rooftops, shouting even more vociferously about what they regard as the chasm between their leader’s honour and integrity and Johnson’s dishonour and dishonesty.

On Wednesday, the linguistically adroit Michael Gove popped up on TV to defend Johnson, taking the line that his boss deserved to be judged “in the round” for the way he had handled the Covid crisis.

“The idea the Prime Minister should resign is bonkeroony,” he declared, adding a new word to the political lexicon.

As for Johnson, asked if he had acted “dishonourably” by remaining in No 10 in light of Sir Keir’s resignation pledge, he replied: “We have tried to move beyond all that. We are trying to focus on the issues that really matter.” Indeed, a poll yesterday suggested, to no one’s surprise, voters were more focused on the cost-of-living crisis than on partygate or beergate.

The Conservatives, having drawn an equivalence between Johnson and Starmer over law-breaking, shied away from doing so over what the consequences should be for their actions.

Kit Malthouse, the Policing Minister, said a resignation by Sir Keir would “not necessarily” mean the PM should follow suit. Starmer, he argued, “has to speak for himself and set his own standards”.

Now, the fate of the Labour leader, and perhaps even that of the next general election, rests in the hands of Jo Farrell.

Who she? Durham’s Chief Constable, who was criticised for not questioning Dominic Cummings, the PM’s ex-aide, about his shameless eye-testing trip to Barnard Castle during the first lockdown.

On the force’s website, it says Farrell became a police officer “because she wanted to make a difference and has gone on to spend her career doing exactly that”. Possibly now in a way she could never have imagined.

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