Some Notes on Keir Stamer’s “He Needs to Resign” Tweet

A now-infamous Tweet from Keir Starmer, from the end of January:

Honesty and decency matter.

After months of denials the Prime Minister is now under criminal investigations for breaking his own lockdown laws.

He needs to do the decent thing and resign.

This has been interpreted to mean that someone who is the subject of a police investigation must therefore be guilty – when asked on television yesterday whether he had “jumped the gun” with such a pronouncement now that he is himself under police investigation he did not address this criticism directly, instead pointing out that the investigation had indeed led to fixed penalty notices.

If Starmer is not prepared to explain how he can stand by this Tweet while not resigning now, it’s perhaps odd that anyone else should do so on his behalf. However, it is not credible that a former Director of Public Prosecutions would advocate a crude equivalance between the mere fact of a police investigation and guilt, or expect such a proposition to be taken seriously.

It seems to me that the difference is the phrase “after months of denials” – the government line was that there was nothing to investigate, but that had been shown to be false by a series of uncontested damaging disclosures. The announcement of “criminal investigations” was just the nadir of the hole Johnson had dug himself into, rather than the hole itself.

In contrast, we do not yet know for sure what “new information” has prompted the Durham investigation, but Starmer is disputing not just the signifance of agreed details but the whole substance of the allegations against him. In particular, we already know that the claim in Richard Holden MP’s letter to Durham Police that an “in person” social event had been advertised was false.

Certainly, though, Starmer’s Tweet was infelicious – the fact of a police investigation was presented as significant in itself, and this is irriating to anyone who has found themselves under investigation due to bad luck or malice. Perhaps had Starmer experienced being on the receiving end of such a concerted campaign to contrive a police investigation when he was DPP he might have been less keen on fostering the “believe the victim” culture that resulted in subsequent police fiascos (a charge made by Harvey Proctor).

One aspect of Starmer’s statement yesterday has prompted commentary. It has been suggested that by promising to resign if he is not cleared by police he is putting pressure on the force. This is humbug – the same people complaining about this now have been gleefully anticiating such an outcome as inevitable for weeks. Starmer’s promise merely makes this explicit.

It is curious, though, that Starmer has discounted the possibility of contesting a Fixed Penalty Notice if he receives one. As noted on Twitter by Dan Davies, “Many decisions made by the police over lockdown penalties have fallen apart in court”. Starmer’s enemies have suggested this is part of his “pressure” tactic, or evidence that he knows that he cannot win in court and so is making a virtue out of a necessity.

One possibility that crossed my mind is that as a former DPP he would rather resign than challenge the police – a while back I listened to an old 1950s melodrama on the radio about a judge who is falsely convicted of murder but who then signs a confession in order to protect public belief in the law’s infallibility. More likely, though, is that Starmer is just very confident that he has the goods, as discussed in the Guardian last night.

If Starmer is exonerated, then I suggest that it is Richard Holden and the cabinet ministers who amplified his false “in person” narrative with Durham Police and the public who ought to be considering their positions.

One Response

  1. Apologies for going off-topic, but you may be interested to know that the private investigator and former New Zealand police detective who worked for the (new) defence team in Rolf Harris’s second and third trials (acquitted/undecided jury) and appeal (one count overturned) has brought out a book about the case.

    “Rolf Harris: The Defence Team’s Special Investigator reveals the Truth behind the Trials” by William Merritt

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