So the future of the Leader of the Opposition and possibly the Prime Minister is now in the hands of two police forces.
We do not know why the Metropolitan Police decided to issue fixed penalty notices retrospectively to Downing Street staff, the Prime Minister and others, since it is apparently not their usual practice to do so.
Similarly, we do not know why Durham Police have decided to investigate whether Keir Starmer and those present at Miners’ Hall in Durham on that fateful April evening should also receive fixed penalty notices. Since it is also not their usual practice and they had previously said that they would not do so.
Come to think of it, we don’t know that they’re actually investigating Starmer at al, strictly speaking. Their statement didn’t name anyone. It simply said that “we can confirm that an investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations relating to this gathering is now being conducted.”
My point isn’t that the Durham police won’t send Starmer a form to fill in about what happened – in the same way that they will to others who were there, and the Met have done to Johnson and others in London. They surely will. Rather, it’s that neither force will communicate to the public what they’re doing and why.
The Met hasn’t said formally that Johnson is being investigated because he was responsible for the Covid rules. The Durham Police haven’t said what is presumably the case – that, with the Prime Minister under investigation and having been fined by the Met, they could scarcely not question the Leader of the Opposition at the very least.
We know that Johnson and Rishi Sunak, who briefly entered the surprise birthday event for the Prime Minister because he had a later work meeting in the same room, have been fined for attending. We don’t know why the Met takes a different view of that event from the Martin Reynolds-organised “party in the garden”. If they do.
Or indeed from the occasion when Johnson and others were photographed drinking there. Again, if they do. Or from the “party in the flat”. Ditto. Or Lee Cain’s leaving gathering. Or other events. We don’t know how long the investigations in London and Durham will take place and how operationally either will work (or are working).
I’m not arguing that either set of enquiries is unjustified. It’s reasonable to investigate whether those responsible for the rules broke them – and remember: Starmer voted for most of them too. (For what it’s worth, though, I don’t think Johnson should quit for being surprised at a party. Though I want to see what happens next and Sue Gray’s report.
Nor do I believe that Starmer should resign, though the fatal charge of hypocrisy leaves him in an impossible position if he’s fined and a difficult one if he’s criticised. Which helps to explain why, with characteristic disregard for the maxim that “speed kills”, he has made his statement several days late.)
I assume the Met’s take is that is is following the usual fixed penalty notice procedure. But that is precisely what neither it nor the Durham force seem to be doing overall – i.e: apply the same investigatory rules to both men and those who work with them that apply to everyone else.
To probe both men and others is fine. To duck explaining why, how the probes will proceed, why further fines will be issued if they are and how the investigations’ timetable will work is not.