Voices: Boris Johnson is using every element of the Trump playbook to undermine the Partygate committee
What may we expect from Boris Johnson’s televised lived testimony to a parliamentary committee later this week? Certainly, some entertainment – the number of “popcorn” emojis on social media suggests that the great showman and his KC wingman, the learned and formidable Lord Pannick, are expected to help give us a Cup Final atmosphere.
Harriet Harman, mother of equalities, liberal uberfeminist and no-nonsense chair of the committee, is probably the antithesis of everything Johnson stands for. She is the anti-Boris, if you will. You’d half expect lightning bolts and a church spire to strike through the windows, The Omen-style, into the Commons Committee Room when these two supernatural forces of good and evil clash.
Fun, but there is a question over how much we’ll learn. We do, after all, know that he knew about social gatherings that broke lockdowns rules because he was actually at some of them, including ones not catalogued, for reasons of time in Sue Gray’s report. Johnson’s principal defence is that he was neither knowingly nor recklessly lying to the Commons when he told them things about parties that turned out to be fibs.
His other defence strategy is political: discredit the committee, smear the Sue Gray Report, get allies to dismiss the proceedings as a kangaroo court, mobilise the base to intimidate those involved and generally distract and confuse affairs in the hope that, once again, he will wriggle his way to freedom.
It is all very Trumpian, as is fitting for a man Donald Trump once called “Britain Trump”. Trump too is facing his own troubles, including a Justice Department probe into the insurgency on 6 January and his role in that shameful episode. He has also been and has been impeached twice. Now Johnson faces the nearest British equivalent to impeachment.
The former prime minister hasn’t yet jammed the caps lock key and called for a mob to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” as Trump did when suggesting he would be arrested this week over a separate criminal case involving hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. An echo of the language he used around the events of 6 January.
However, there appears to be an email campaign to intimidate the Tory MPs on the committee looking into Johnson – four out of the seven members deliberating on the contempt of parliament – with more or less blatant threats of deselection.
In the same Trumpian spirit, Johnson has tried to undermine the whole thing by insinuating that Gray’s move to work for Keir Starmer, admittedly problematic, means her entire report was some sort of fiction, as if her straightforward and cautious chronicling of events during Partygate was just made up.
Like Trump, Johnson seeks to create a myth that there is some sort of vast conspiracy against him (and the people) rather than simple and routine acts of serial rule-breaking, casually denied, which make him unfit for office. Even though we know him so well, it is always dispiriting to revisit the poverty of Johnson’s morality. He has, as someone who liked him personally once said, “the morals of an alley cat”.
Like Trump, his personal life has mirrored his political life, and left emotional wreckage in its wake. There is no equivalent in the Johnson saga to Daniels, but no one could claim Johnson is a model of uxurious fidelity.
Even by the debased standards of the political classes, Johnson, like Trump, has sunk to new lows. Johnson is the first prime minister to have been fined for a criminal offence; the first to have had a decision on a prorogation of parliament overturned by the Supreme Court as an attempt to suborn the constitution; the first to nominate his dad for a knighthood; and now the first to appear before the Privileges Committee to answer for lying to parliament – which was once a resigning matter.
Johnson has misled or lied to every newspaper editor, party leader and wife he’s known, and even to the Queen, over that prorogation decision.
Like Trump, he is not to be trusted, and is a menace to democracy, as we will no doubt discover once again on Wednesday. Like Trump, though, he is a slowly fading force, shrunken since the fall from power, the attempts to remain relevant and stage a comeback increasingly pathetic.
His party want to move on. He's an embarrassment. Johnson’s bluster and banter can no longer carry him through the squalls. He’s going to find his interrogation hard going, but he may be too arrogant to yet realise it. I can’t wait.