• Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

Character staining and its consequences – Johnson’s yellow journalism

ByGem Kirwan

Mar 3, 2022
boris johnson addressing parliament

Over the past few months, we have seen scandal after scandal leave Boris Johnson floundering – the Prime Minister’s disastrous handling of Brexit, the pandemic, and now Partygate have left him in desperate search of a way to deflect attention from his ever-growing number of blunders. On 31 January, the nation watched in disbelief as Johnson accused Sir Keir Starmer of personally failing to prosecute serial sex offender Jimmy Savile during his time as Director of Public Prosecutions after the Labour leader questioned his suitability to run the country in the wake of Partygate.

I always thought “words have consequences” was a lesson we all had to learn during carpet time at school, but apparently personal responsibility isn’t on the curriculum at Eton. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the House, was made to reiterate this arguably rather basic message to Boris Johnson after Starmer and MP David Lammy were mobbed by right-wing protesters accusing the Labour leader of being a “paedophile protector” and “child abuser”, directly echoing the Prime Minister’s accusations. Starmer has since confirmed on BBC Radio Newcastle that he has also received death threats since the incident.

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Apparently, “cause and effect” was another valuable lesson they don’t teach you at Eton as the Prime Minister chalked up the abuse Starmer has faced to unfortunate coincidence. He refused to apologise for his statement, feeding into a disproven far-right conspiracy theory, and denied that his rabble-rousing claim had anything to do with the definitively roused rabble who attacked Starmer a week later. Speaking to ITV, Chris Philp – a Conservative MP and evidentl, unconditional supporter of Johnson – said that “this link that people are trying to make between [Johnson’s] comments and the appalling harassment and intimidation Keir Starmer suffered are getting that wrong”. Beyond its grammatically questionable composition, Philp’s statement is clear nonsense. Anybody with half a brain cell can see that the link between the Prime Minister’s “comments” and the subsequent “harassment” of Starmer is about as clear as the link between “1+1” and “2” or “putting a bumbling mop in charge of the country” and “a total catastrophe”. Maybe the Tories would find it easier to believe if it was written on the side of a big red bus. 

At the end of the day, all Johnson did in making those allegations was prove, as Starmer stated, that he is an irresponsible leader. Telling lies to save face, no matter the consequences for anyone else, is not the conduct of an honest, reputable, or, frankly, competent leader. Johnson’s opposition should be able to do their jobs and speak their minds without risking their safety – or having the Prime Minister risk it for them. It is no surprise that people believed his lies, it is no surprise that they responded abusively and aggressively, and it is no surprise that Johnson attempted to wash his hands of the whole thing as soon as it backfired. The Prime Minister’s ineptitude isn’t funny anymore – it has the potential to cause serious damage.

Image courtesy of Jessica Taylor/House of Commons via Flickr