Political round-up: 'Beergate' vow & Queen's Speech reaction

Sir Keir Starmer and the Queen's Speech have dominated the headlines this week. Credit: PA Images

It is a remarkable situation: Durham Police have the Labour leader's future in their hands.

Sir Keir Starmer spelled that out on Monday, promising that he will step down if he is found to have broken coronavirus rules when he had a beer and a curry with colleagues in Labour's office in Durham last April.

It already looked inevitable that he would have to go if he was fined (as I wrote about last week), but pre-announcing it seems to have been quite a smart move.

It has neutralised things, slowing the relentless flow of coverage of so-called 'beergate'.

"Never in the history of human conflict has so much karma come from a korma", quipped Tory MP Graham Stuart (Beverley & Holderness) in his traditionally light-hearted speech to start the debate on the Queen's Speech on Tuesday.

But generally Conservatives have been left in an awkward position, most arguing against Starmer quitting, otherwise they'd be calling for Boris Johnson to go too.Clearly, this is still a big gamble by the Labour leader.

Starmer dodged the question of what he'd do if Durham Police concluded he probably broke rules but decided not to take retrospective action, as they did in the case of the Prime Minister's former chief advisor Dominic Cummings.

The force and its officers have certainly had some high-profile decisions to make over the pandemic.

We're expecting the investigation into Starmer and colleagues to take around six weeks.

As for the Queen's Speech, it felt like a moment in the monarchy's transition.

The Queen's mobility issues meant she missed the State Opening of Parliament for the first time in 59 years, as Prince Charles stood in, flanked by Prince William.

 The government's legislative plans didn't contain too much of direct significance to the North East.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill intends for there to be annual reports looking at progress towards the 'missions' in tackling regional inequality set out in February's Levelling Up White Paper.

It would also see the formal creation of the 'county deal' devolution model, with County Durham among the first areas lined up for extra local powers.

The speech certainly referenced the soaring cost of living but, as a number of Labour MPs argued in the subsequent days' debates in the Commons, contained no more immediate support for people who are struggling.

On Wednesday, Stockton North's Alex Cunningham said: "We needed a Queen’s Speech that would tackle the cost of living crisis, with an emergency budget, including a windfall tax, to get money off people’s energy bills."

It does seem the Chancellor Rishi Sunak could be warming to the idea of a windfall tax on the profits of energy companies.