“The cry will go up: only one man can save us! Emails from local activists, and some not so local, will fill the spam folders of Conservative MPs. Polls of varying reliability will be spread before their bewildered eyes. There may even be hints of deselection. Only one man has the charm, the jokes, the charisma, the campaigning razzamataz. Save your seat! Now or never! Bring back Boris!”
So I wrote in the Times a week ago today about the run-up to and the aftermath of May’s local elections. I was mistaken only in believing that the campaign to put Boris Johnson back in Number Ten wouldn’t get going quite yet.
Since then, there have been further pieces on the theme in the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph, the Sunday Express, and the Mail on Sunday (no fewer than three), today’s Sun and today’s Times…so taking us back to where we started. Plus the article by Andrew Gimson, Johnson’s biographer, on this site last week.
Today, I’ll avoid giving a view about whether Johnson should or shouldn’t return – and turn instead to the matter of what Party members think. We don’t know, but the view of ConservativeHome’s panel may come in useful.
Below are Johnson’s scores in our Cabinet League Table for each month since January 2020 in reverse order – ending in Jully last year shortly before his resignation.
June: – 21.1
May: – 15
January: – 17.3
December: – 33.8
November: – 17.2
The scores are reached in each Ministerial case by subtracting the very negative and negative ratings from the very positive and positive ones. The story that these scores tell is roughly as follows.
Johnson began 2020 in the wake of December’s general election with superlatively high scores. These declined gradually through the year as Covid and lockdown bite, slipping into negative territory in October, before then recovering somewhat at Christmas as the vaccines arrive.
2021 started solidly enough for the Prime Minister as the vaccine rollout gathers pace – but then came the Chesham & Amersham by-election in mid-June followed by the Batley & Spen one in early July. Plus Matt Hancock’s resignation in between. From then on that year, Johnson’s ratings are either in the low teens or in negative territory, in the wake of the Owen Paterson affair and the North Shropshire by-election.
Three of 2022’s six months or so of the Johnson premiership find him in negative territory, and three more in single figures or teens. The Tiverton & Honiton by-election takes place in late June: if a theme stands out from the panel’s returns, it isn’t Covid parties so much as by-elections – and the effect that their loss has on Conservative morale.
We’ve yet to see polling of the general public, of Conservative voters (Red Wall and Blue Shire), and indeed of party members by YouGov or Opinium.
The panel opted for Rishi Sunak over Johnson by 51 per cent to 30 per cent with 17 per cent don’t knows last November. The Conservative Post had a poll of party members showing 90 per cent for Johnson, five per cent for Sunak and four per cent for Mordaunt.
For better or worse, I don’t take either result all that seriously, since both took place after Sunak had become Prime Minister, and a 90 per cent vote for anyone sounds somewhat unlikely.
Our Christmas surveys suggested that Johnson has a dedicated band of followers (see here and here) – and the panel has provided previous evidence of the same. (Sunak’s ratings began to decline since mid-2020 and are currently very poor.)
But in April, May and June, significant percentages of the panel said that Johnson should leave office, starting at about a third and ending with just over half. New polls here and elsewhere would provide new information. But as matters stand there’s no evidence that Party members want Johnson back in Downing Street – and quite a bit to the contrary.
Near the end of his tenure, I wrote: “Ukraine will have pushed him up last month; partygate will have pulled him down this. But the driver of his low scores is that the Government is too left-wing, at least in the view of many activists”.