Boris Johnson is a deeply unpopular prime minister



That accusation that Downing Street hosted a drinks party on May 20, 2020 while Britain was under Covid restrictions is toxic to Boris Johnson. This has been evident ever since the video was released last month by the Prime Minister’s former press secretary, Allegra Stratton, who was fighting to defend another rally that was reportedly held in Downing Street before Christmas 2020.

Prior to the video’s leak in early December, the Tories averaged 37 percent in the polls. At Christmas, they were down to 31 percent. The decline was particularly sharp among Leave voters, who of course were the group that gave Mr Johnson his victory in 2019.

Although opinion polls conducted since the quiet of the festive season have seen Tory support return to 34 percent, the party is still five points away from where it was before the Prime Minister in November tried to save the political career of former Tory MP, Owen Paterson – thereby initiating what has proved to be a continuing debate on Mr Johnson’s judgment and honesty.

In fact, the damage to the Prime Minister’s own personal reputation of the “partygate” and the Paterson case has been even worse than the one his party has suffered. At the turn of the year, the proportion who said they approved Mr Johnson’s performance or think he’s doing the job well was, on average, a full nine points from where it had been in October. He is now a deeply unpopular prime minister.

With “partygate” back on the political agenda – following an ITV News report on an email from Prime Minister Martin Reynolds’s Prime Minister Martin Reynolds inviting Downing Street staff to gather in the garden – including potentially even more serious allegations about his own personal involvement, Mr. Johnson has to face three difficulties in the public opinion court.

Johnson’s priority as a politician is result, not process. It has often worked to his advantage. At least let the voters supported his illegal prorogation of Parliament in September 2019 because it was done in the hunt for Brexit. Voters across the political spectrum welcomed the government’s successful bid to buy Covid-19 vaccines before knowing if any of them would work.

But few voters look favorably on MPs like Owen Paterson being paid to lobby ministers on behalf of private companies or on the idea that those who set the coronavirus rules should be allowed to break them. There is no end that, for some voters, at least justifies the means. So now there is no cover for the Prime Minister’s apparent disregard for the process.

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Given the public’s perpetual skepticism of politicians, it was not surprising that the populist cry that there is “one rule for them and another for everyone else”, in the wake of “partygate” resonated between two-thirds and four-fifths of voters in December. However, the question also has a personal emotional resonance for many voters, for whom the sacrifices they made during the lockdown are still fresh in the memory.

No less than 61 percent of those who watched the Allegra Stratton video when it was first released told YouGov that it made them feel “angry”. Such a mood is not easy to dampen.

But perhaps most seriously of all for the Prime Minister, then the voters simply do not believe in him. In the polls conducted in the immediate aftermath of the charges last month, between two-thirds and three quarters said they thought there had been a party on Downing Street by Christmas 2020 and that coronavirus rules had been broken. Even more seriously, perhaps about two-thirds said he did not tell the truth.

These views are not only found among those who voted against Mr Johnson in 2019. Even among Tory supporters, well over half believe there was a party before Christmas 2020, while almost half believe he has not told the truth. Recent revelations will hardly do anything but reinforce these impressions.

All of this is marked by what happened in the wake of Dominic Cummings’ infamous trip to Barnard Castle in May 2020. Conservative support fell by eight points, and the Prime Minister’s approval rating by a dozen points, as voters became more and more not convinced that Mr Cummings’ journey was within the rules.

Then, however, the Conservatives and the Prime Minister started so high in the polls that they could afford to take the significant reputation blanket. But now Mr. Johnson no longer has that luxury.

John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University and Senior Researcher, NatCen Social Research and ‘The United Kingdom in a Changing Europe’

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