AS the dust settles on the local election results, the spin machine is working to full capacity.

The big losers were the Conservative Party. Among its many failures, the one we heard mentioned most often by local Conservative activists and representatives was partygate.

The issue still looms large over the Tories as we wait for the outcome of the Metropolitan Police’s investigation.

Allies of Boris Johnson have been desperate to contrive equivalence between the law-breaking actions of the governing party and the standalone incidents of minor rule-breaking from other party leaders.

The most that has been uncovered is a few seconds of masklessness from Nicola Sturgeon as she spoke to mourners at a funeral and another occasion where she was spotted briefly without a mask on the campaign trail, only days before the mask requirement was to be dropped entirely.

Which brings us to beergate. Right-wing papers have pushed out the story for months. Despite the fact that for a long time there were no new developments to report, it was still the subject of numerous front pages. And then, on Friday, they were eventually rewarded for their efforts.

Keir Starmer will now be investigated over allegations that he broke the rules when he had a beer and a takeaway with his staff during a by-election campaign last year.

In a statement, Durham police said they had received “significant” new information about the incident and would be opening an inquiry.

Earlier this year, the force carried out an assessment on the gathering and found no rules had been broken. We don’t yet know what this new evidence is. Some have suggested it relates to a quiz that had been organised for activists on the same night which was held via Zoom.

Or it could be an online comment about the Zoom event made by one of those invited who said that she hoped those attending have a “greasy” night.

Tory MP Richard Holden wrote to the police over this comment claiming it was a little-known slang word for getting on the booze. Most people, free from the brain-frying instincts of partisan politics, would think it was far more likely that “greasy” was merely a typo, and the comment was meant to read “have a great night”.

Maybe I’m being too soft on the Labour leader. Perhaps I’m being naive in believing that this “event” was exactly what he said it was – after a long day of campaigning, some time was set aside for food, which people ate before heading back to their hotel.

If it emerges that the Labour leader smuggled a suitcase of wine back to the Radisson for an afterparty I’m going to look like a right eejit.

But the Tory strategy here is clear. They desperately want to muddy the waters between the repeated, planned and overt rule-breaking that took place in Whitehall during full lockdown and what the police are now investigating regarding the Labour leader.

Polls show the public overwhelmingly believes Boris Johnson is a liar and a law-breaker.

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The Tories have no hope of convincing them otherwise. All they can do now is try to drag others down into the gutter with them. They want us to believe all politicians are the same. That they all lie and they all dodge responsibility when they are caught out.

Starmer’s handling of this situation has been shambolic. From the initial confusion and backtracking about who was at the event, to his wooden, unfocused defence of it, he’s allowed his critics to control the narrative.

One of the main charges levelled against him is that he is a hypocrite.

He says he is totally confident that the police will find that he broke no rules. If he truly believes that – if he knows nothing improper took place and the odds are he will be cleared of any wrongdoing – then there is only one strategy left available to him.

He needs to come out quickly and confidently and say that he will resign as Labour leader if he is found to have breached the Covid guidelines. It’s not a strategy without risk, but it would elevate him above the noise of the increasingly frenzied Tory attacks.

If he receives a fixed-penalty notice from the police, he’s a goner anyway, so there’s no harm in using a show of integrity as a sticking plaster while the police carry out their investigation. It would move the focus back to where it should be.

Johnson is likely to receive more fines from the Met Police. Sue Gray’s report will eventually see the light of day. He could be found by a parliamentary committee to have misled parliament.

Starmer’s Beergate woes don’t take away from the fact we have a Prime Minister who is running out of plasters to cover up his many wounds.