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‘Keir Starmer’s job offer to Sue Gray fails to pass the sniff test’



From the records unearthed by The Herald’s political editor, Tom Gordon, we learned of Angus Robertson recusing himself from decisions on alcohol advertising because his wife, a public relations officer, promotes whisky. Nicola Sturgeon declared her husband Peter Murrell’s half-share of a house in Portugal.

Patrick Harvie coughed to a breach of the peace conviction. Kate Forbes did not register her church membership, but John Swinney listed his participation “in the life of the Church of Scotland”, and Humza Yousaf, candidate for SNP leader and First Minister, asked for a pharmacist sister and three dentist cousins to be taken into consideration.

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Place this information beside the goings on at Westminster and it’s like comparing a nativity play to Reservoir Dogs. For some reason I felt quite proud of Holyrood, so there you are. A breach of the peace, Mr Harvie? Come back when you are the first sitting Prime Minister to break the law. A house in Portugal Mr Murrell, but does it have a duck island? As for having a sister who is a pharmacist, away and do something properly scandalous Mr Yousaf, like nominate her for a damehood.

Yes, not content with handing a peerage to his brother Jo, Boris Johnson now wants a knighthood for dad. It is early to be doling out Father’s Day gifts, particularly to a man who was accused of smacking a Tory MP’s backside and groping a journalist (when asked, Johnson snr said he could not recall any such incidents).

Not to be left out, Rachel Johnson added to the gaiety of the nation by attempting to justify the blatant nepotism when she appeared on The News Agents podcast. Dad had served his party well, blah blah, helped the environment, blah blah, once an MEP … One wonders why the man does not have a clutch of Nobels.

Her interview was almost as much of a bin fire as Sir Keir Starmer’s on LBC. The host, Nick Ferrari, asked the Labour leader nine times when civil servant Sue Gray was first approached about a job with the party. Nine times Sir Keir declined to say.

Of all the dramas bubbling away in UK politics, the case of the Gray lady bears watching closely. Unlike Pa Johnson’s proposed knighthood, this one was a marmalade dropper. A very senior civil servant jumping ship to the opposition shortly after publishing a major report on government wrongdoing? That will grab the attention.

The job offer reflects badly on Sir Keir in a number of ways. First, and most obviously, it is an own goal for Labour. At a time when the focus should be on the UK Government it is on Labour, and not in a good way. What possessed them to think this was the ideal time to go shopping for a chief of staff?

The clumsy move appears to have handed Mr Johnson a get out of jail free card. A look at the facts says otherwise, but how many voters will remember all the details of what happened come the next election?

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It was not Ms Gray’s report alone that did for Mr Johnson. It was Pippa Crerar, then of the Mirror, now of the Guardian, who exposed the parties in the first place. It was the Metropolitan Police, after its own investigation, which handed out the fines. And it was Mr Johnson who appointed Ms Gray as an independent investigator.

One can understand Mr Johnson wanting to use Labour’s job offer to Ms Gray to deflect attention from the mess he is in. That is only to be expected of the man. He wants another stab at a comeback. It only takes a moment, however, to look at the evidence against the former Prime Minister and conclude he was caught bang to rights.

The problem for Labour is the smell that is hanging around. The Labour leader’s offer of a job to Ms Gray fails to pass the sniff test. Not only does it look odd, the timing is terrible, coming just before Mr Johnson appears before the Commons inquiry into whether he misled parliament.

HeraldScotland: Keir Starmer's offer of a chief of staff job to Sue Gray fails to pass the sniff testKeir Starmer’s offer of a chief of staff job to Sue Gray fails to pass the sniff test (Image: Newsquest)

Besides being a cack-handed move, appointing a grandly titled chief-of-staff while you are still in opposition looks presumptuous. It is like getting caught measuring the curtains in Downing Street.

Hardly a good look when the voters are not that sure of you to begin with. Labour are ahead in the polls, but not by as much as Blair at the same time in his leadership. Moreover, the gap between Sir Keir and Rishi Sunak is narrowing. One recent Ipsos poll gave Sir Keir a 32% approval rating compared to 27% for the Prime Minister.

Both men have benefited from the public’s desire for a quieter, less eventful life after the three ring-circus of first Mr Johnson, then Liz Truss. But as a General Election moves closer, voters will want to hear original ideas and see bold thinking in action.

On that score Sir Keir has hardly distinguished himself. His recently launched “five missions” for a Labour Government were thuddingly banal and instantly forgettable. Who does not want to “build an NHS fit for the future” or “make Britain’s streets safe”?

He could hardly lose when Downing Street was in the hands of Boris Johnson or Liz Truss. Rishi Sunak, however, still has a slim chance of turning things around for the Conservatives. As his small boats policy shows, he is not messing around when it comes to getting a clear mandate of his own.

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Though those around Sir Keir may not agree, he has had a relatively easy time of it as leader. Labour’s period of disgrace over anti-semitism within the party aside, the past week has been the leader’s toughest time. If his performance and that of his shadow ministers are any guide (did you see Jonathan Ashworth on The Andrew Neil Show?) there is a lot to do before an election begins.

It looks as though Sir Keir is hoping Ms Gray will come to his rescue by showing that everything was in order, and that she did exactly what was required under the civil service rules. Sir Keir can then get back to his quieter life.

The shine has come off him though. It is not the worst time for this to happen, and it won’t be the last time. If nothing else it is a reminder that there is nothing inevitable about a Labour victory.

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