An attempt by a local Tory party to smear Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer by linking him with disgraced paedophile Jimmy Savile has backfired.
The Ipswich Conservative Association last week featured on their website a photo-shopped picture of Keir Starmer ‘taking the knee’ with the caption: ‘Soft on Savile: tough on cake’. A ‘ghost’ image of Savile had been superimposed on the picture.
The caption links Starmer’s criticism of Boris Johnson for breaking Covid regulations by attending his own birthday party, and to dismissed allegations that when director of public prosecutions Starmer failed to prosecute Savile.
The allegation about Starmer had been made by Boris Johnson at prime minister’s questions, under the protection of parliamentary privilege which allows MPs to make claims which otherwise might leave them open to libel charges.
The next day Starmer was set upon in the street by a mob, accusing him of being a paedophile protector, and had to be rescued by police. He has subsequently received death threats.
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Smears attacked as dishonest
Johnson’s allegations formed the basis of an article by Ipswich Tory MP Tom Hunt in the Ipswich Star, in which he repeated the implication that Starmer was responsible for failures to arrest Savile, in spite of Johnson’s original allegations being dismissed by senior members of his own party.
Hunt also accepted that Starmer had apologised for the failures of the Crown Prosecution Service even though he personally had not been involved.
Over the weekend, the retiring Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, was one of a number of critics of Johnson’s allegations. He called today’s political culture “rancid and dangerous”, and declared that Boris Johnson should be ashamed of telling a lie that had led to street violence.
“I do not believe that was an honest statement, and I think he should be ashamed of it,” Bayes said. “And the folks who trotted out to say ‘it’s not really a problem, it’s all part of the rough and tumble of politics’ should share that shame.”
Dan Poulter is the Tory MP for the part of Ipswich that is contiguous to Hunt’s constituency, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich. He makes clear in a letter to constituents that he rejects the approach taken by Johnson and Hunt.
“If we believe in a kinder and gentler politics, then all of us in public life have a duty to focus on civilised debate and should set an example – including the Prime Minister.”
The Ipswich Star has also been widely criticised locally for publishing what appeared to many to be an open attempt at smearing Starmer. Some have suggested that the inaction by the Star against the article may have encouraged the later photo on the Tory website.
Tories withdraw picture, claiming “administrative error”
But by last Monday, the offending picture had been removed without explanation. Later when challenged, Ipswich Tory agent Eddie Phillips issued a statement describing the photo’s publication as an “administrative error”. He also apologised.
There was no further attempt to explain what purpose the photo-shopped picture had, if not publication, nor any denial that somebody within the Ipswich Conservative Association had presumably been responsible for the montage, whatever its intended purpose.
Phillips declined to be interviewed by BBC Radio Suffolk and was not available to talk to East Anglia Bylines. There has been no comment from either Tom Hunt or the Ipswich Star.
However, a poll in the Independent shows Keir Starmer at his highest ever approval rating, which suggests Tory attempts to embroil him in the sleaze allegations have failed.