Tory Peer Says People Too 'Precious' Over Johnson's Savile Smear After Starmer Suffers Mob Abuse

Peter Lilley's "both sides" argument adds to list of Conservative defences that include being part of the “cut and thrust” of politics.

A former Conservative cabinet minister has said “we’re all getting a bit precious” about Boris Johnson’s Jimmy Savile smear aimed at Keir Starmer after police had to rescue the Labour leader from a mob.

Starmer was bundled into a police car for protection near parliament on Monday as he faced baseless allegations of “protecting paedophiles” and protesters shouting about Savile.

At least six Conservatives including a former cabinet minister joined MPs from across the political spectrum in linking the harassment to the unfounded claim Johnson made while under pressure over the partygate scandal.

But Conservative peer Peter Lilley, a cabinet minister in the Thatcher and Major governments, said: “I think we are all getting a bit precious about this.”

He dismissed the controversy and attempted to argue “both sides” make similar attacks, in an interview on BBC Newsnight.

He said: “Both sides are saying the person at the top of the organisation is responsible for what happens further down … both sides should probably apologise and stop making personal remarks.”

Fmr Cab Minister Peter Lilley tells #newsnight: “I think we’re all getting a bit precious about this, both sides are saying the person at the top of the organisation is responsible for what happens further down...both sides should prob apologise and stop making personal remarks.”

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) February 7, 2022

His comments echo those of a number of Tory loyalists who, despite the widespread outrage, have indicated they are relaxed with the position.

The PM initially accused Starmer of having “used his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile” when he was head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

The comment was made in the commons as the prime minister faced criticism over Downing Street parties during the pandemic. Fact-checkers have repeatedly proven the claim was baseless.

Johnson later backed down from his “Trumpian” attack, and said he wanted to “clarify” his remarks, claiming he had not been talking about Starmer’s “personal record” when he was director of public prosecutions. He notably did not apologise for the slur.

In a tumultuous week for No.10 where five senior aides quit, one of them, Munira Mirza, resigned as No 10’s head of policy over Johnson’s use of the “scurrilous” Savile smear. In what was interpreted as exposing his leadership ambitions, chancellor Rishi Sunak said he wouldn’t have said it.

But before Johnson’s clarification, commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg – who is thought to have championed the slur as a line of political attack – sought to defend his accusation as “perfectly fair and reasonable points of political debate”.

“The prime minister has apologised similarly for mistakes that have been made in Downing Street,” he said, making the same partygate equivalence as Lilley.

“I think that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and the geese and the gander should not complain one for the other. They are perfectly fair and reasonable points of political debate.”

The day after the Johnson attack in parliament, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “This is the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate and exchanges.”

Presenter Nick Robinson pointed out: “An allegation that the former director of prosecutions, a man knighted for his work, protected a serial sex offender you’re saying ’is the normal cut and thrust of British politics’?”

Raab refused to repeat what Johnson said and claimed, “I don’t have the facts to justify that,” before trying to move on.

Johnson’s controversial Savile attack on Starmer was “perfectly reasonable”, the business secretary claimed on Sunday.

Kwasi Kwarteng told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News: “I think it’s entirely legitimate… it depends what the context was.

“In that context, I think it was perfectly reasonable to mention the fact that Sir Keir had apologised.

“Sir Keir himself apologised on behalf of the organisation that he led about the fact that they failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile.

“So the fact that he apologised suggests that he does at some level bear some responsibility.”

Kwarteng said he was not saying Starmer had “personal blame”.


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