Boris Johnson had the political stage more or less to himself from July 23, the day on which he was elected Conservative leader, to September 2, the day on which Parliament returned. Since then, he has regularly been defeated in the Commons over the Benn Bill, lost 21 Tory MPs and his majority, been assailed by many of those who remain (for attacks on Dominic Cummings are by extension attacks on him), failed to gain a general election and now faces further lawsuits over his prorogation in the courts.
His many enemies are putting the boot in, delighted at last to have the chance to do so. For today, let’s leave aside the rights and wrongs of all the above, and ask a question. So much for Westminster. What about everywhere else?
The sum of the polls shows that the Conservatives overtook Labour in early July, when the Tory leadership election was well under way, with Johnson the clear favourite to win it. At the same time, the Brexit Party was continuing what has since been an uneven but consistent descent. Politico’s most recent chart shows the Tories on 34 per cent, Labour on 24 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 18 per cent and the Brexit Party on 12 per cent. Punch those figures into the Electoral Calculus calculator, and one gets a Conservative majority of 96.
Now for the caveats, which are almost limitless. A snapshot, as our proprietor is fond of saying, is not a prediction – which applies even more to a summary of snapshots. A poll that takes place outside a general election campaign is not a poll that takes place during one: so in 2017, for example, Labour’s ratings improved once the contest had begun in earnest, and Jeremy Corbyn began to make his case. And a poll within a general election campaign may be a misleading snapshot in any event.
The figures we cite don’t take regional and local variation into account . Nor the SNP. The Electoral Calculus calculator is necessarily broad-brush. As we suggested yesterday, the Tories, when an election comes, will have to do very well indeed in the north and midlands to make up for losses in London, Scotland and elsewhere.
And so on: for example, the further squeeze on the Brexit Party’s vote that one might reasonably expect if the poll takes place after Britain leaves the EU might not happen at all if the election takes place…and Britain is still a member. None the less, the polls are telling us something – namely that, after reaching a nadir of about 20 per cent for the Tories in the wake of the European elections, the Conservative vote has slowly but steadily risen. Johnson’s leadership must provide much of the explanation, with its new focus on the NHS, the police and schools.
At Westminster, the Prime Minister is currently being portrayed as a loser, largely by those who have an interest in doing so. The sum of the evidence to date is that this take is not so widely shared outside. Look at it all very simply. Lots of voters want Brexit to happen, even if they’re not enthusiastic about No Deal. May refused to jump the fence. So far, Johnson shows little sign of doing the same. People have noticed. Some Tory support has returned. It could all go belly-up. But don’t underestimate the gap between Westminster opinion and views outside.
Crudely but clearly, Johnson is painting a picture of a Government that wants to deliver Brexit, and of MPs who are trying to stop it. That this is a caricature of complexity is beside the point. Many of the big things in life are simple. The Prime Minister understands this more clearly than many of his opponents.