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Paul Vallely: Johnson and Trump eye comebacks    

02 June 2023

Will voters welcome them back to hold high office, wonders Paul Vallely


Boris Johnson and Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Biarritz, in 2019

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Biarritz, in 2019

JUST when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have both reappeared on the political scene, each as blusteringly self-confident as ever. But which of them has the better chance of making a political comeback?

Only a few weeks ago, Mr Johnson’s allies were talking up his chances of re-entering Downing Street at some point. He had done enough, they argued, when he appeared before the Commons Privileges Committee, accused of lying to Parliament, to get away with a rap on the knuckles on the grounds that his behaviour had been merely reckless rather than deceitful. Johnson loyalists rallied to a conference of the new Conservative Democratic Organisation, founded by the leading Boris supporter, the mega-millionaire Lord Cruddas.

In contrast, things were looking bad for Mr Trump after a jury concluded in a civil case that the former President had committed sexual abuse and then defamed his victim. It ordered Mr Trump to pay her $5 million. Other court cases are pending over accusations of handling secret documents, inciting the insurrection on the Capitol, and meddling in the election in Georgia.

But then came the news that government lawyers had passed Mr Johnson’s pandemic diaries to two police forces over concerns that he may have broken more rules during the Covid lockdowns. And, at another right-wing conference, under the badge of National Conservatism — attended by Brexit luminaries such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Lord Frost, and David Starkey — Suella Braverman made a strong post-election Conservative leadership bid. There is even talk of Mr Johnson’s resignation Honours list being cancelled or delayed.

At the airport on the last leg of a global speaking tour that has earned him £4.2 million — but for which he missed 187 votes in the House of Commons — Mr Johnson looked immensely discomfited when confronted about all this by a Sky News reporter. On top of this, a new poll suggests that two-thirds of voters under the age of 40 think that Mr Johnson’s party is dishonest and incompetent and deserves to lose the next election.

Over in the United States, however, Mr Trump — twice impeached, indicted on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, and potentially facing charges under the Espionage Act — is regarded as the Republican front runner for the next presidential election.

When he verbally attacked the woman who had successfully sued him for sex abuse and defamation, calling her a “wack job”, the audience laughed and applauded. It did so again when he described the storming of the Capitol as “a beautiful day”, and said that, if re-elected, he was inclined to pardon many of the convicted rioters, who had “love in their heart”. The more outrageous his behaviour, the more his support grows. A recent Washington Post poll suggests that Mr Trump would beat President Biden in a head-to-head contest.

Voters do not care about political lies, researchers have concluded, so long as politicians present themselves as champions of “the people” against “the Establishment”. One such academic study is called “They Might Be a Liar But They’re My Liar.” Dishonesties may merely underscore Mr Trump’s authenticity in the eyes of his supporters. But, thankfully, in Britain — if that poll is correct — the voting public appear finally to have seen the light.

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