Analysis: Johnson's Savile Slur Is A Foretaste Of The Next General Election Campaign

A Tory MP suggested Conservative Campaign HQ would be stockpiling stories on Starmer’s time as Director of Public Prosecutions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Finnbarr Webster via PA Wire/PA Images

One Tory MP was visibly angry when asked about Boris Johnson’s Jimmy Savile comment, telling HuffPost UK it was “disgusting and abhorrent”.

“It’s so disrespectful to the victims. Why would you feel the need to drag up all that trauma for so many people? I’m really cross with the prime minister over it. He needs to just apologise.”

And they are not alone, a number of Conservatives say they are “embarrassed” by Johnson after he made a baseless claim that Sir Keir Starmer “spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile” when he was Director of Public Prosecutions.

Johnson has refused to apologise for the comment even after Starmer was confronted by an angry mob shouting about Savile.

The slur is known to be rampant on conspiracy theory message boards and is parroted by far-right activists.

“It’s Trumpian,” said one Tory backbencher. “But Donald Trump should have been finished for what he said but he wasn’t - and Trump will probably run again.”

One MP said the PM “allows his mouth to engage before his brain” while another added: “I like Boris but he drives me insane. He can’t keep his mouth shut.”

The Trump theme is echoed by Johnson’s critics, including chair of the defence select committee and Tory MP Tobias Ellwood who tweeted: “Let’s stop this drift towards a Trumpian style of politics from becoming the norm.”

Anthony Mangnall, who along with Ellwood submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson, added: “We are not America. What happened to Keir Starmer and David Lammy [was] unacceptable.”

One minister conceded he would not have made the comment but defended the PM, adding: “Starmer was in charge at the time [of the Savile case] and he apologised on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service because he was in charge.

“Boris made those comments because Keir was telling him to take responsibility for what was going on [in Downing Street].”

Another added: “I think it was incredibly unhelpful - I wouldn’t have said it, and I don’t think it was the right thing to say. I still don’t quite understand why it was said and he’s not explained it.”

With the partygate scandal threatening Johnson’s political survival, Tory MPs can at least all agree that the last thing he needs is another crisis.

Letters of no confidence are totting up and the PM suffered a significant blow when his top policy aide Munira Mirza resigned over the Savile comment.

However, as one canny Tory MP on the right of the party noted: “We’re not talking about Boris Johnson now, we’re talking about Jimmy Savile.”

The most telling analysis of Johnson’s Savile slur comes not from critics in his own party, but some of his keenest supporters.

They include MPs who suggest the comment was aimed at voters who have cited the Savile comment on the doorstep.

“This wasn’t something said off the cuff - this is something we know people are talking about,” one Tory MP said.

They claimed it had been mentioned on the doorstep during the Batley and Spen by-election last summer and that Johnson “knew what he was doing” when he made the comment.

They even suggested Conservative Campaign HQ would be stockpiling stories on Starmer’s time as Director of Public Prosecutions.

“I’d expect to see some more of this sort of thing in the run-up to the next general election,” they added.

Separately, Tory MP Lia Nici told the BBC that the Starmer-Savile link was “the number one issue” on “social media” in her town - before the PM made his comments.

Jacob Rees-Mogg – who is thought to have championed the slur as a line of political attack – has sought to defend the comment as “perfectly fair and reasonable points of political debate”.

His reasoning gives us a hint of the tactics Tory HQ just might be considering as they transition from attacking Corbyn to attacking Starmer the QC in the run-up to the next general election, expected in 2024.

And as Starmer himself said of Johnson: “He knows exactly what he is doing.”


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