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There is a popular meme among leftwing Starmer-sceptics in the Labour party, one that was often used against the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn: “Any other leader would be 20 points ahead.”
While Keir Starmer has steadily eaten into the Conservatives’ poll lead, there is a frustration among some Labour MPs and the wider opposition to Boris Johnson that the prime minister does not appear to be absorbing more of the personal responsibility for the worst crisis since the second world war, a crisis that government delay, cronyism and ideology have all played a part in exacerbating.
There are reasons why Johnson’s supporters believe he can continue to deflect some of the more personal criticism – although closer inspection of polling numbers and the disquiet on the Tory backbenches does indicate Johnson has damaged and squandered goodwill in ways that will be difficult to mend.
One former Tory adviser said they had watched gobsmacked as a prime minister who had won his party a handsome majority now had those same backbenchers in open revolt.
Even some of the most ardent opponents of Johnson on the Tory benches firmly believe their voters will give the party the benefit of the doubt in the handling of an unprecedented pandemic.
But a successful vaccine programme is key to this.
“Most hospitals have not actually yet been overwhelmed, most people have had their livelihoods protected by furlough, those have been the key measures so far and as long as the government passes its third test – which is to get everyone a vaccine before the summer is out – I think he will be able to ride this out,” one Tory MP said.
Another shire Tory, a supporter of Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaign, observed that as long as the prime minister could claim the success of the vaccination programme for himself, voters may forgive “his dithering, his lack of attention to detail and his pathological obsession with being liked, which is always the reason he is reluctant to make hard choices until they become inevitable and more painful”.
His fiercest opponents within his own party had been lockdown sceptics, members of the newly formed Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs who have been willing to vote against coronavirus restrictions in numbers large enough to defeat the government – had Labour not supported them.
But the influence of the group has waned as quickly as it waxed, now the vaccination programme has commenced, with the vast majority of the group backing the latest lockdown measures.
The group is also out of step with the general public, with polling showing most of the country favouring more stringent restrictions and longer lockdowns as a way of protecting loved ones. In the latest Opinium poll, 64% said they would prefer “a government who quickly puts lockdown measures in place, even if that means that sometimes measures are put in place that didn’t need to be”.
One tactic that enrages Johnson’s opponents is the subtle shifting of blame on to the public’s compliance with rules as the reason for a rise in infections. Many were alarmed by a recent poll by YouGov, which found that 58% of Britons held the public most responsible for the rise in coronavirus cases over the last month, rather than the government, who were blamed by 28%.
This came despite the insistence of Johnson that lockdown rules would lift on 2 December, that Christmas mixing would continue as planned and that schools would return as normal – followed by a last-minute scramble to change the rules after infections soared.
However, a closer look at the polls suggests Johnson has not escaped blame. In the 12 months since the 2019 general election, Johnson’s lead dropped from double-digits to level-pegging, the steepest decline in modern history.
According to the Focaldata survey of more than 22,000 people from early January, the public are deeply unhappy with the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the government would lose its majority at an election held at the present time. More people think Johnson should resign as prime minister than think he should continue in office, according to the latest Opinium poll.
Many Tories privately fear there are voters the government will never win back, especially parents of teenage children whose education has been so disrupted by missteps, as well as teachers themselves. “It’s appalling what has gone on; the pressure on teachers has been unbelievable,” one senior Tory MP said. “What teacher would vote Conservative again? Not in a million years.”
Ultimately, the judgment on Johnson at the next election will be on the success of the country’s recovery from the pandemic – with many more tough choices to come that the “sunlit uplands” prime minister cannot duck.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Tory MPs say Johnson’s future rests on a successful vaccine programme | Boris Johnson