Three reasons why Boris Johnson can survive the public’s anger at Partygate

  • 30 April, 2022
  • Politics
  • Polling

Published in the Mail on Sunday on 01 May 2022.

Looking at my latest polling it is easy to see why many believe Boris Johnson’s Downing Street days are numbered.

My new 8,000-sample survey shows the opposition ahead not just on traditional Labour issues like the NHS and public services, but on supposedly Tory territory like immigration and crime. Voters say they are more inclined to trust Labour to run the economy.

When it comes to the premiership, Keir Starmer rates higher than Johnson in nearly all areas: communicating effectively, leading a team, formulating effective policies, having the right judgment in a crisis – and doing the job of prime minister overall. Apart from willingness to take tough decisions for the long term – a double-edged sword that can suggest callousness as well as realism – the Conservatives lag Labour on all other qualities we asked about: unity, values, being “on the side of people like me”, having the right priorities and (disastrously for a centre-right party) competence.

The government’s response to rocketing living costs has hardly helped. In our focus groups, a few wise souls said they always knew the lavish pandemic spending would have to be paid for, and asked what any minister could do in the face of global markets. But most of those who had noticed the March mini-Budget were unimpressed. Not only did the help on offer feel derisory in comparison to steep tax and price rises, revelations about the non-dom status of the Chancellor’s wife, the couple’s combined wealth and his apparent inability to make a contactless payment at a petrol station reinforced the impression of a government at one remove from real people’s lives.

And that is before Partygate. As my poll found, just under half of all voters – including most 2019 Tories – think either that the issue is trivial or that, the PM should be allowed to focus on more important things. But the 47% who told us they thought he should resign over the issue included nearly one in five previous Tory voters, and nearly one third of those who switched to the Conservatives from Labour at the last election.

Notably, in our focus groups it was often these first-time Tories who were most angry with Johnson. Having had the highest hopes for him, they were the most surprised and disappointed to have been let down. They had regarded Johnson as a maverick but not a liar or a lawbreaker. This episode showed him to be part of an elite that looked down on them, not – as they had felt in 2019 – on their side against the Brexit-blocking political establishment.

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Images: Garry Knight from London, England, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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