How Boris Johnson can help restore public trust in politics – leader comment

Prime Minister Boris Johnson cannot simply speak to his ‘base’ if he hopes to restore public trust in politicians.

Boris Johnson has the charisma to reduce cynicism about politics, but is he brave enough to be strictly honest with voters? (Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Trust, or more accurately the lack of it, is becoming a central issue of our age. It is all too easy to be cynical about politicians. Many will insist they are “all the same” or “just in it for themselves” with the angry certainty of the ‘ordinary voter’, an individual ‘the great and the good’ must fear to offend, in case they seem high and mighty. Other voters eagerly demonise those they disagree with, while putting too much faith in the leaders of their own side, painting them almost as saints.

The truth – as probably most of those described above would eventually admit – is subtler, more nuanced.

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However, while society as a whole is being somewhat unfair to our elected representatives, only they have the ability to change this damaging perception. The question is, are they actually motivated to do so or will they simply accept this as the reality of the modern world and seek to gain advantage within it.

‘More interested in game shows’

Former politicians often seem more believable when discussing major events of the past; if only existing ones had the courage to speak as candidly.

Speaking about the 2008 financial crash, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said a failure to explain what his Government was doing had damaged public trust in politics, but he complained that people were “more interested in game shows, than the financial crash”.

However, it was a key part of his job to convey just how serious the situation was, to make people see that the “drastic action” he was taking was required.

Being Prime Minister is not just about taking the right decisions, it’s about providing leadership that makes the public sit up from everyday concerns and take notice, that instils confidence, and helps quieten the over-loud cynics.

Johnson the Brexit saint

Boris Johnson is a charismatic politician, and he could use this talent to change the poor perception of politicians. But, in addition to his style, there must be substance.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need a Prime Minister we can trust, who we know will be honest with us about the challenges ahead.

So it is troubling to discover that, 30 years ago, ia news story written by Johnson that was “not quite right” could have played a role in the events that forced the resignation of Margaret Thatcher. After his report suggested then European Commission president Jacques Delors was planning an EU super-state, Thatcher gave a speech that prompted europhile Geoffrey Howe to resign in a fatal blow to her premiership.

There are other reasons to be cynical about Johnson’s commitment to telling the truth. But that makes it all the more important that he sticks rigidly to it and does not rely on his ‘base’, his most ardent supporters, who see him as a Brexit saint.

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