British people don’t like being lectured to or hectored. It is especially offensive to the British public when self-righteous politicians make every attempt to break rules that everyone has imposed upon them.

Until last week, this was an accusation thrown – with some justification – by Labour at Boris Johnson and other members of his Downing Street operation, as the scandal of ‘Partygate’ has unfolded.

However, this accusation was retracted in embarrassing fashion by Keir Starmer.

Keir Starmer earlier this month. He has repeatedly insisted no rules were broken on April 30, 2021

This month, Keir Starmer was earlier in the month. He has repeatedly insisted no rules were broken on April 30, 2021

Over the weekend, it was revealed that the Labour leader had enjoyed a couple of drinks with a colleague during the last year’s local election campaign.

Indoor mixing among different households was strictly forbidden, with the exception of in-work situations. It was also illegal to drink indoors in public places.

Last April’s event at Durham saw the government encouraging people to work remotely whenever possible.

Starmer may have disregarded these regulations. As the Daily Mail revealed today, Starmer seems to have flouted these restrictions.

Using ‘committee rooms’ at all – thought to include constituency offices such as the one the beer-swigging Starmer was pictured in – needed to be ‘rigorously considered’, according to government guidance.

If such rooms were used, the document continued, this should be only ‘in accordance with the prevailing guidance on gathering and hygiene and social distancing…any such activity should be functional and not social’.

Starmer was captured enjoying a beer with other colleagues in a constituency office in Durham last April

Starmer and his colleagues were captured having a beer in Durham’s constituency office last April.

The campaigners should wear masks on their faces and activities “should be organized one-by-one.”

Needless to say, this does not cover quaffing drinks and laughing your unmasked head off with a large group of people – windows shut.

Starmer appears to have ignored the guidelines on campaigning that he ought to be following to the letter. How much work was needed in that room, that Starmer could not do at home?

Starmer, however, has repeated his assertion that there were no violations of rules on April 30, 2020. 

Yesterday, he said, “We were working when a takeaway came along and we stopped to have it,” at a radio station. “We didn’t violate any rules. We did nothing wrong.”

He stoutly claimed that he doesn’t need to apologize for his actions. It’s not Labour’s leader who is arrogant here, but the Prime Minister.

And as I was a Labour MP for 14 years – I know what the run-up to elections is like. You’ll be working long and hard.

What is it about local elections that requires alcohol-fuelled social mix? Boris Johnson stated that he considered his Downing Street party in 2020 a work event.

Starmer refused to believe the Prime Minister on this. Instead, Starmer called him a lie and told him to resign. He also rejected the humiliating apology Boris made for the Commons as well as the country,

God knows the Prime Minster isn’t perfect. Starmer may have indulged in his self-righteous talk a little too often over the past few days.

Even his official spokesman intones that her boss ‘follows the rules at all times…honesty and decency are non-negotiable for him’.

It is risky for a politician, to portray himself as St Francis of Assisiii’s reincarnation. Why? Why? Because your immeasurable moral goodness will soon become reality.

Like all human beings, you will make a mistake – and if you’ve hoisted yourself up on to a giant pedestal, there will be plenty only too willing to shove you off it and roll you into the harbour.

Starmer’s greatest problem isn’t that others will try to accuse Starmer of hypocrisy.

His greater risk is that voters – especially the swing voters he needs to target – are likely to conclude all politicians are the same.

That conclusion would undermine the progress he knows he has made as leader – including leap-frogging the Government in recent polls.

And that’s why he probably feels he has no choice – even as the evidence against him mounts – to continue to insist he has done nothing wrong.

While it is likely that Sir Keir did not break Covid rules that night, it could be that he used some clever legal reasoning (and as an ex-director of public prosecutions, Sir Keir knows the importance of technicalities).

But in the court of public opinion – rather than the more high-minded courts with which Starmer is most familiar – technicalities don’t matter. According to spin-doctors, the ‘optics are all that matters’.

Starmer is now the Witchfinder general of Government Partygate work. It appears that Starmer broke the rules he wanted to enforce on all others and which he mercilessly held onto the Prime Minister.

This is the reason he needs to apologize. Throughout the pandemic, Labour’s leader was loudest in demanding stricter regulations.

Those who make or seek to make the rules that govern our lives need to stick to them – and look like they do. Any other approach risks jeopardizing democracy.

Millions followed these rules for nearly two decades. Some were punished and shamed for violating them on social media. Starmer must apologise for both of these.

The judge has made serious mistakes. However, we have to point out that these ever-changing regulations were often complicated and confusing. They are also difficult to follow.

Boris Johnson earlier this month. Last week at he and other members of his Downing Street operation were at the centre of the 'Partygate' scandal as it unfolded

Boris Johnson was interviewed earlier in the month. Last week at he and other members of his Downing Street operation were at the centre of the ‘Partygate’ scandal as it unfolded

Starmer was a meticulous reader of the government’s document regarding elections. It was published March 25, 2021.

It has been difficult to stick with the rules due to their ever-changing nature. Because they were created by politicians, the rules were open to interpretation and human foible. Starmer is aware of all these facts.

How refreshing it would be if he now came forward and admitted that he made a mistake – while pointing out the inconsistencies in those same rules.

I refuse to join those calling for his resignation. It is lazy in modern politics and it’s becoming increasingly common.

Publicly calling for resignation has never been something I’ve done. It would help if politicians did the same.

Starmer, and all of his party members have to take a breather from this unfortunate episode. My decades-long membership has taught me that Labour is driven to be the moral superior on every issue.

Their argument over policy isn’t enough. They must assert Harold Wilson’s misguided statement that Labour is nothing, if it’s not a moral crusade.

It’s just not true. Labour is another political party that has its agenda and attempts to win the presidency.

As Sir Keir, the former prosecutor, knows. Labour doesn’t believe anyone can be perfect.

If only Starmer would now see that inconsistency – and tell the country he is sorry.

TOM HARRIS served as Labour’s MP for Glasgow South between 2001 and 2015.