Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Smearing Keir Starmer

A spectre is haunting Keir Starmer, the spectre of ... Jimmy Savile. Having been put on the ropes by the Labour leader during his unconvincing, lying display at the dispatch box on Monday, Boris Johnson reached deep into his pocket of playground barbs and accused Starmer of "failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile". Not for the first time, Johnson has drawn universal condemnation upon himself. The survivors of Savile's abuse have roundly criticised him and called for an apology. We'll be waiting a long time for that one.

Obviously, this says everything about Johnson. There are no boundaries, no constitutional nicety he'll respect if it stands between him and staying in office. The allegation, which originated on the far right and normally finds itself propagated by people who have more Union Jacks on their Twitter profile than followers, cynically taps into the never-far-from-the-surface panic about paedophiles and the whiff of establishment collusion in shielding powerful men. Funny how these same rightwingers aren't fussed about the carte blanche Margaret Thatcher gave Jimmy Savile to run around London hospitals, nor how she lobbied for him to receive a knighthood - which was finally awarded shortly after her party turfed her from office. The Tories aren't exactly well placed to give lectures about enabling Savile and laundering his reputation. Photos like the one above is how Savile's relationship to politics should be remembered.

But what of the allegation? It's thoroughly false. In fact, it is interesting watching prominent jockeys on the hack circuit come to Starmer's defence. Such as the BBC's Ross Atkins, for example. A sense Johnson is on borrowed time and if they can hasten his departure while blandly claiming to report the news, why not? He's already convinced enough of the people who matter that a Starmer-led Labour government is a serious and safer proposition. The longer Johnson holds out, the greater the risk of popular anger seasoning into something too spicy for their tastes.

The truth doesn't matter for Johnson. It's a case of any old rope. As Richard astutely observes, this is part of a Tory pattern of traducing Starmer's character, of what might be seen as a in mainstream politics finds congenial - DPP, prosecuting criminals and terrorists - and turning it into a negative. Johnson has frequently and ham-fistedly claimed Starmer was a lefty lawyer, a past life long buried by his murky record as the establishment's chief prosecutor. Recalling the foul 2004 US presidential campaign, decorated Vietnam "war hero" John Kerry found his record picked over in minute detail and utterly rubbished by astroturf outfits (Swiftboat Veterans for Truth), rightwing shock jocks, and Fox News. At the end, you'd think his medals were won for playing tiddly winks at home in the Texas National Guard. Which is what George W Bush did. Just putting the guilt-by-association out there between Starmer and Savile serves Johnson's purposes nicely, while damning the consequences: a further coarsening of public discourse, no comeback for peddling disgusting lies, and in extreme cases, priming vulnerable and unstable people for acts of violence. It's not as if a Tory MP was recently murdered or anything.

This is why some on the left gleefully clinging on to Johnson's coattails shouldn't. That Starmer should have taken more of an interest in this case at the time is fair enough. He did so in plenty of other, less high profile cases, but there is something deeply unpleasant about nodding along to Johnson's smears and agreeing the man has a point. That Starmer systematically undermined the previous leader, lied about his policies to become Labour leader, and turned on the left doesn't matter in this instance. He might be a man without morals, honour, and qualities, but the left is not. The labour movement is not. It's high time some comrades started thinking about their responsibilities to the interests, the ideas, and the class they affect to serve, because none of this is helped by giving Johnson's carefully contrived outburst any kind of left cover.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

"some on the left gleefully clinging on to Johnson's coattails"

Not being in the British left I haven't come across these people. I Google "leftists supporting Boris Johnson" and nothing comes up except leftist attacks on Boris Johnson. Are you talking about something serious, or is this just a strawman aimed at making your support for Starmer seem a bit less toxic?

To stress: on this issue Starmer should surely be supported. But it seems (unless there's something out there I don't know about) that you're smearing fellow leftists in order to make supporting Starmer more agreeable to yourself, and if that's the case I would say it's not the right thing to do.

Phil said...

I don't support Starmer. If everything I've written about him this last year doesn't reinforce that, then there's nothing else I can say.

But no, you won't find anyone using those search terms. But you will if you're following the "right" people on social media.

Anonymous said...

Who are 'the right people ? There is one obvious name, but even he has steered clear. If there are culprits they need to be named and shamed.

Anonymous said...

I spoke too soon - the person I had in mind has 'delicately' now found the temptation to repeat some of the garbage too much, whilst still saying it is baseless.

BCFG said...

"cynically taps into the never-far-from-the-surface panic about paedophiles and the whiff of establishment collusion in shielding powerful men."

I agree with this but even more pernicious is the liberal hysterical reaction to Raith Rovers currently taking place. It is the same side of the coin to the fake rebellion, hang all the criminals mentality of the populist right.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised the John Kerry/swiftboat story hasn't been noted more widely. For all the tutting outrage surrounding the allegations - the pious Tories concerned about 'tone'; the Speaker's reminder of 'standards' - it's obvious that the Tories and the right-wing press are going to run with this (or whatever else they can get) in relation to Starmer's time as head of the CPS. Sure he can boast about how many bad guys he's helped put away; the Tories will nudge-nudge about the ones he didn't. It's the bluetick liberals who are naively assuming their man is somehow bulletproof compared to Brown, Miliband and - above all - Corbyn, just as the Democrats thought Kerry's Vietnam record made him 'electable.' But then it's those same bluetick liberals that signalboosted almost every bogus allegation against Corbyn in the first place, and are now outraged because it's their man getting the same treatment.

Jim Denham said...

It is a matter of record that the Morning Star/CPB expressed sympathy for Johnson as an "anti-establishment" figure over Brexit and over his illegal prorogation of Parliament. Check the archives of the Morning Star.