Keir Starmer is, frankly, a brighter man than Corbyn. Initially he demonstrated this by handling the Cummings debacle in a smoother way than his predecessor ever would have done. He stopped short of calling for a head on a plate and instead demanded an inquiry – an altogether more palatable demand, and less of a witch hunt. His initial stance allowed for an enormous degree of political point scoring, while being insulated from making erroneous accusations.
Last night that all changed.
Labour took on a new line and a new, harsher, tone. Instead of asking questions, the leader of the opposition pivoted to demanding the scalp of Dominic Cummings. Pitch forks were sharpened. Attack videos were made. The witch hunt campaign began in earnest.
Whilst this more aggressive strategy, as Corbyn’s used to, collects likes and retweets in droves online, Starmer has now opened up a can of hypocrisy worms that he will not be able to put back with any ease.
It isn’t that long ago that Labour’s Stephen Kinnock drove hundreds of miles to see his elderly parents during lockdown or that one of Labour’s few remaining MPs in County Durham, Kevan Jones, attended a constituents’ birthday party. On both occasions, Keir Starmer of course did nothing.
This new approach smacks bad faith hyper partisanship – exactly the approach the new Labour Leader told the nation he would avoid. Truly gone is the brief window of constructive opposition.
Starmer’s statement yesterday highlighted the tragic cases of people across this country not able to be with their loved ones in their final moments, and of mourners unable to find the closure and shared consolation of funerals. Yet this was the same Keir Starmer who did nothing to reprimand Labour MP Tahir Ali who attended a funeral in his constituency as one of 100 mourners at the start of April. The point scoring partisan double standards over such sensitive matters leaves a truly bitter taste in the mouth.
The statement is even more brazen when you take into account that Dominic Cummings himself was among the many millions of people robbed of being with their loved ones in their final moments. Due to the lockdown Cummings was unable to visit his uncle, whom he was exceptionally close to, through his final days in hospital in London. At the time, Cummings was isolating in Durham.
What a contrast to those Labour MPs who darted about the country for reasons other than safeguarding children with particular needs.
Even viewed under the harshest lens, the case of Dominic Cummings is less than clear cut. MPs like Steve Baker who have called for Cummings to go have spoken about the “spirit” rather than the letter of the rules being broken. This far from the same category of those Labour MPs who actually broke lockdown.
Labour’s Health Secretary in Wales, Vaughn Gething, had a picnic with his family in a park at a time when the Welsh Government he sits in explicitly said “No picnics in the park.” There is no wriggle room there. Keir Starmer of course stayed silent.
Once the guillotine has been dragged out for one person, it rarely works out well for the initial operators.
Labour needs to recognise they can’t cheer on the cancel culture revolution for their political opponents, while ignoring the graver misdeeds of their own. Keir Starmer is opening a pandora’s box of persecution, and it will not discriminate by party. This can’t be one rule for Labour politicians, and another rule for everyone else.