Boris Johnson was using the Donald Trump playbook when he brought far-right invective into the heart of public debate with his notorious smear falsely linking Keir Starmer with Jimmy Savile, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has told The Independent.
Mr Lammy was with Sir Keir when they were mobbed by anti-vaccine protesters who shouted “paedo protector” and “Savile” at the Labour leader on Monday.
And he said that the mob’s language – which Starmer said had never been directed at him before – drew on the prime minister’s slur in the House of Commons the previous week, when he suggested the Labour leader, as director of public prosecutions, had failed to take action against the celebrity paedophile.
Mr Lammy told The Independent that the potential consequences of the tactic could be seen in the storming of the Capitol in Washington on 6 January last year by Trump supporters fired up by mistruths and slanders from the former president.
The Tottenham MP said he had already been concerned about some of the tactics used by anti-vaxxers, particularly when protests have harassed children outside schools in a way which he described as “deeply ugly and un-British”.
But he said he had never before seen the demonstrators who regularly gather in Westminster burst through security barriers to confront politicians directly in the way they did on Monday as he and Sir Keir walked back down the Embankment from a Ukraine briefing at the Ministry of Defence.
“I heard continually the phrase ‘paedo’ shouted at us, which was not something I’ve experienced before,” he said.
“That was the language that we that we saw from Boris Johnson – stories around Jimmy Savile that have existed on the far-right dark web, that should never have made their way to the despatch box and should never have been uttered by a prime minister of this country.”
His comments came after Starmer told The Times he believed there was a link between Johnson’s comments and the incident on Monday.
“I have never been called a paedophile protector before,” said Starmer. “That happened for the first time in my life.
“If others want to argue that this is unconnected with precisely what the PM said one week before, then let them make that case. But they’ll never persuade me that there is no link.”
Mr Lammy described the PM’s comments as “worrying” and drew a clear comparison with Trump’s tactic of firing up supporters with unsubstantiated slurs sourced from the political extremes.
“The only modern-day example of a leader pulling stuff from the fringe into the centre is Donald Trump,” said the shadow foreign secretary.
“And we saw where that led. It led to the horrendous, horrific assault on the Capitol. And I’m afraid there were elements of that in some that were gathered on the Embankment last week.”
Mr Lammy praised the work of the police who bundled Starmer into a car to take him to safety.
And he said he was heartened by a public response which recoiled from the abusive behaviour of a handful of protestors.
“The abuse that was being directed at us, the threats that were being made, the general aggression and violence and skirmishes and jeering that was taking place took me back to the sort of abuse and thuggery that you would see sometimes when you went to a football match in the late 70s or early 80s,” he said.
“I think that the public reaction to the behaviour that was shown towards the leader of the opposition really conveys the strength of feeling – people don’t like that sort of behaviour in this country.”
Mr Johnson has issued a clarification making clear that he knew Sir Keir played no role in the decision not to prosecute Savile. But he has refused to apologise, despite being rebuked by Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and seeing an aide resign and two senior cabinet colleagues distance themselves from his words.