Boris Johnson has been called a Heineken politician – he can reach parts of the public that other politicians cannot. Yet a string of scandal after scandal and strikes have left the country with a hangover amid the deteriorating economic situation. To the public and, most importantly to Johnson, the Conservative Party, signs are showing that they are ready to give up the bottle.
Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, two of the country’s most senior politicians, have resigned following the government’s devastating treatment of sexual assault allegations against former Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher. they were followed a record breaking numbers Further resignations, including those of Johnson loyalists.
A look at recent polling can tell us a lot about where Johnson and his party are going next.
The Public Has Enough – But Don’t Think Johnson’s Going Anywhere
YouGov released the results of a Snap poll of 3,000 British adults on the evening of Javid and Sunak stepping down. It showed that nearly 70% think Johnson should resign as prime minister – and only 18% think he should stay. Importantly, a majority of 2019 conservative voters (54%) also think he should resign, and only 33% should stay.
However, by roughly the same margin, most people think he will not actually resign. Importantly, those who voted Conservative in 2019 were more likely than the rest of the people to think they did. More than a quarter of this group responded that Johnson would “definitely” or “probably” resign.
These findings pose a serious problem for Johnson. It is also a reflection of people’s faith in the political system. A strong majority of the public thinks he should leave, but very few believe he is leaving.
Johnson is no longer an asset in the election
Most of the ministers who have resigned so far have described the crisis of public trust or faith in the government’s agenda as the last straw. Yet perhaps a more important factor is that Johnson is no longer an assistant at the ballot box. The Conservatives are in a dangerous position for the next general election.
Personal approval ratings for Johnson fell at the break of the Partygate scandal, and failed to recover. He is not popular with the public, as was clearly made clear when his party lost in recent by-elections – on very different battlefields and by damaging margins – to the Liberal Democrats and Labor. For the first time, several demographic groups are turning against the PM.
The government has already come down to a majority of 67 seats in parliament, including the defeat in the by-election and the MPs losing the whip. This is not counting those who may have voted with the government before but have now left the rebels.
Current polling predicts that the Conservatives will lose their majority altogether if elections are held today. Many of the potential pitfalls are in places where Johnson, rightly or wrongly, has won personally.
This does not mean that Labor will win or that the Conservatives will leave. But it does mean that they are in a far more vulnerable position than before.
Leadership expectations divided on strategy
So far, doubts over who can replace Johnson as party leader have prevented many Conservative lawmakers from cooperating in efforts to oust him. But as the situation worsens for Johnson, the mind will now be more sharply focused on the identity of the successor. Some lawmakers with leadership ambitions think the best strategy is to run away as soon as the ship sinks. Others see his association with Johnson as an asset to his successes before this crisis.
Sunak and Javid may have decided that by jumping in at the right time, they had distanced themselves enough from Johnson to give themselves a chance to run for the lead. New chancellor Nadim Zhawi may find that a term at the top will set him up as a continuation figure – although the strength of that argument depends on how long he remains in office before a leadership contest.
At least as far as Tory members are concerned, their favorite spots are Ben Wallace and Penny Mordaunt. The latter has the current advantage of distancing themselves from Johnson from the start. Importantly, however, none of these figures have a large public profile.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is the only one who has both popularity among members and public visibility. But she is an ally of Johnson, so the question is paramount to her whether the public wants a leader associated with Johnson or a clean break. The Tory party will be acutely aware of this riddle as she decides on her options.
The Johnson government has created a crisis of confidence
After the 2019 election, Johnson argued it was his time to restore confidence in politics. Citing his formidable record on that purpose, his resignation letter leads his colleagues to think he has done the opposite. And the public agrees: A look at the poll shows that only 13% of people think Johnson is trustworthy—a lousy rating. For context, pollster Chris Curtis points out that these results mean that more people believe the moon landing was fake than it seems to be able to trust the prime minister.
This is in reference to the already very low level of trust in politics in general when we compare it to the global picture: only a third of British people express that they trust the government.
As issues of trust increase in importance, this can influence people’s choices in the ballot box. Many may be asking themselves whether they trust the government to lead the country in very difficult times ahead. Others will wonder whether this government can be trusted to uphold the ethical standards they expect from their leaders.
It is not clear who, if any, will be able to reverse the notion that the Conservative Party is unreliable, nor how long it will take. But finding someone who has distanced themselves from Johnson early on can be helpful.