‘Trumpian politics’: Tories turn on Boris Johnson over Jimmy Savile remarks

Prime minister faces fresh calls to apologise to Keir Starmer after Labour leader faces angry mob

Boris Johnson
(Image credit: Gareth Fuller / Pool / AFP)

Conservative MPs have renewed their calls for Boris Johnson to apologise for his false claim that Keir Starmer failed to prosecute paedophile Jimmy Savile, after protesters “ambushed” the Labour leader near parliament yesterday.

Police were forced to “bundle” Starmer into a patrol car after he was “surrounded by a mob shouting the child sex offender’s name and slurs”, which included “paedo protector”, reported The Times.

The Mirror said that “some protesters had a noose” as they repeated the claim, made by Johnson in the House of Commons last week, that Starmer in his role as the director of public prosecutions (DPP) failed to prosecute Savile, a “fake claim regularly used by the far-right”, said the paper.

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In one clip, protesters can be heard “swearing and bellowing” at the Labour leader, including shouting: “Were you protecting Jimmy Savile?”

Starmer had been returning to parliament with shadow foreign secretary David Lammy after a briefing on Ukraine at the Ministry of Defence before they were accosted by the angry mob. Both were unharmed.

Johnson tweeted to condemn the abuse but made no reference to the false claim he made to MPs last Monday. He called the behaviour of the protesters “absolutely disgraceful”, adding: “All forms of harassment of our elected representatives are completely unacceptable.”

The Guardian’s chief political correspondent Jessica Elgot tweeted last night that seven Conservative MPs had “publicly criticised” Johnson over his Savile claims, including four MPs who have put in letters of no confidence against the prime minister to the 1922 Committee. She updated the tweet today to a total of ten critical Tories.

Julian Smith, a former Northern Ireland secretary under Johnson, condemned the behaviour of the protesters in a tweet last night, and said that it was “really important for our democracy and for [Starmer’s] security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full”.

Responding to Smith’s tweet, Tobias Ellwood – one of the MPs to have publicly sent in a letter of no confidence in the PM – asked Johnson to “apologise please”.

“We claim to be the Mother of all Parliaments. Let’s stop this drift towards a Trumpian style of politics from becoming the norm,” he added. “We are better than this.”

Other Conservative MPs to have asked the prime minister to apologise include Roger Gale, Stephen Hammond, Anthony Mangnall, Aaron Bell, Rob Largan, Caroline Noakes and former Brexit secretary David Davis, while Simon Hoare retweeted Julian Smith’s call to apologise.

Davis, who urged Johnson to “In the name of God, go!” last week, told LBC that the prime minister should “shoulder responsibility” and “apologise unreservedly” for his Savile remarks.

“If he withdrew… and apologised unreservedly that might indicate a change of attitude which frankly after the last couple of months would make many of my colleagues more comfortable,” he told presenter Tom Swarbrick.

A government source told Politico’s London Playbook that the prime minister would not apologise for his Savile remarks and rejected the suggestion that they could be linked to Starmer receiving abuse outside Parliament.

“This was a bunch of vile anti-vaxxers and anti-government loons,” said the unnamed insider. “Their awful actions should be condemned. They were shouting a multitude of slurs and accusations at Starmer including things about Julian Assange.

“It is plainly wrong, and without evidence, to suggest that the PM’s comments in any way increased the likelihood that these loons would be on the street trying to cause trouble. The fact that some are trying to turn this into another day’s row about Savile feels like opportunism that is a distraction from where our condemnation should be directed.”

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said last night’s incident has “reignited the anger inside the Conservative Party” at the prime minister’s false claims and his “refusal to apologise, and partial retraction” had “made some MPs queasy”, leading to “at least one” MP to send in a letter of no confidence in the prime minister.

London Playbook said that “much of today will be spent testing whether No. 10’s non-apology line can last”. But it seems “pretty clear” that “a bunch of Covid extremists siding with Johnson over Starmer at the top of the BBC News at Ten is not a good look for the PM”.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.