On 7 February Labour Leader Keir Starmer had to be escorted from Westminster into a police car for his own protection, whilst protesters shouted abuse at the Labour leader following Boris Johnson’s comment.
What did Boris Johnson say?
Prime Minister Johnson made false accusations about Starmer on 31 January in a heated debate in the House of Commons. The incident occurred when Keir Starmer called on Tory MPs to oust Johnson, following Sue Gray’s report into the Parties held at Downing Street and across Whitehall, during the lockdowns.
In response to Starmer, Johnson retaliated and said: Starmer “used his time prosecuting journalists instead of prosecuting Savile.” This false accusation led to an onslaught of abuse from members of the public against Starmer at Westminster with protestors who shouted “paedophile protector” at the lawyer as he left Westminster.
Following this incident, Police have been asked to investigate death threats made against the Labour leader, following the PM’s false accusation, from far-right individuals and groups.
What is the link between Starmer and Jimmy Savile?
In 2008 Keir Starmer was appointed Director of Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), until 2013. During this time the Jimmy Savile scandal was exposed showing a failure within the police and within broadcaster the BBC.
Hundreds of survivors came forward in 2012 sharing their stories of abuse at the hands of BBC presenter Jimmy Savile. The sex offender had abused multiple women and girls throughout his career for the BBC. Savile died in 2011 and was not convicted for any of his crimes, despite survivors coming forward to Police in 2009, the police at the time stated there wasn’t sufficient evidence for an arrest.
In 2013, following the Savile scandal, Starmer announced changes to how sexual abuse cases are investigated. He also created a panel to review previous historic complaints of sexual assault. Starmer also released a study showing false allegations of assault were rare and negligence in taking claims of sexual assault seriously continued to allow abusers to get away with their crimes unpunished.
Starmer became leader of the Labour Party in 2020, which incited claims he had failed to convict Savile in 2009. An investigation led by fact-checker charity Full Fact found Starmer had no immediate link to the failure of the case in 2009. The results of the investigation determined the failure was due to local police and a reviewing lawyer from CPS who was handling the case at the time.
What do other Politicians think?
Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said: Johnson’s comment is ‘“battery acid [which would] erode trust in politics” in an interview with Sky News. Sturgeon added the PM should apologise. In solidarity, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “This is what happens when fake news is amplified.”
In an interview for BBCs World at One former Conservative Party Chairman, Lord Chris Patten condemned Johnson for failing to apologise for these comments and said: “the party has turned into an English nationalist, populist, Johnsonian cult.”
There was further pressure for the PM to apologise by members of his own party with his own Policy Chief Munira Mirza quitting following Johnson’s slur against Starmer.
In her resignation letter published by The Spectator Magazine Mirza wrote: “I believe it was wrong for you to imply this week that Keir Starmer was personally responsible for allowing Jimmy Savile to escape justice. There was no fair or reasonable basis for that assertion.”
In addition, a lawyer who represented some of the victims of Savile told Sky News that his clients have called on the PM to withdraw his claim against Starmer.
However, in an interview with BBC Breakfast digital minister, Chris Philip said: “Johnson was not “incorrect” and the comment had been “misconstrued” and the harassment had not been provoked by Johnson comment.
How has the PM backtracked?
After there was pressure for Johnson to retract and apologise on 3 February the Prime Minister stated the comment was not referring to the party opposition leader: “I was making a point about his responsibility for the organisation as a whole.”
Johnson also tweeted condemning the harassment Starmer’s experienced: “all forms of harassment against elected representatives are completely unacceptable.” However, failed to take responsibility for his involvement in provoking the attack.
When requested in the House of Commons on 9 February by Labour MP Ruth Jones to reconsider his words. In response, the Prime Minister said: apologising would “let the thugs and yobs who bullied and harassed the honourable gentleman off the hook because they are culpable.”
As tension grows between the Tory MPs and their trust in Johnson, it’s becoming more apparent he is focused on the next election and this slur may have been strategic play.
The comment has ignited further scepticism within the Party as some Tory Members called for Johnson to resign. This discredited claim will not be forgotten as Johnson scrambles to stay in power.