Boris Johnson Called “Conservative Corbyn” As Partygate Scandal Clouds People’s View Of Cost Of Living Response
Partygate has caused so much damage to Boris Johnson’s reputation that new cost of living measures seem to be falling flat among the general public.
One pollster even suggested Johnson could become “Conservative Corbyn” as a result of the party’s policies remaining popular with voters, while the once popular leader himself garnered negative responses.
While many now view partygate as a distraction from more pressing issues, namely the economy, the damage done to trust in Boris Johnson means public focus on new cost-of-living policies, such as the windfall tax on oil and gas companies, is limited.
“Voters tell us that they think partygate is now a distraction and we should be focusing on more important issues,” Chris Curtis, head of political polling at Opinium Research told PoliticsHome.
“But that doesn't mean it hasn't damaged the Conservative Party,” he added.
“That doesn't stop the fact that Boris Johnson's approval rating has fallen quite dramatically, mostly off the back of the partygate scandal.”
Following the publication of civil servant Sue Gray’s full report into gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown, government insiders told PoliticsHome they were confident the issue is no longer a problem in “real Britain”.
Officials privately suggested that concern over partygate is now confined to the “Westminster bubble” of journalists and politicians, adding the public are now bored of the matter and care far less than those working in the world of politics.
Pollsters say there is credence to the perception the public want to shift focus, but in reality that is proving difficult due to plummeting levels of trust in government stemming from the partygate scandal.
“It's going to be incredibly, incredibly difficult for the prime minister to come back from this,” Curtis said.
“When you look at historical trends, normally when a prime minister reaches this low level of approval ratings, they don't come back from it. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I think it's probably unlikely.”
A new poll from Savanta ComRes released this week places the Conservative party 11 points behind Labour on 31%. The figures translate to a 24-seat majority for Labour at a general election.
Government has been extremely keen to move the public narrative away from partygate.
The announcement of a windfall the day after Gray’s report was released in full, as well as plans to introduce new Covid-19 style press conferences where the chancellor and prime minister will update the public on economic progress, form part of Number 10’s latest plan to revive the Johnson image.
However, pollsters argue that the Prime Minister’s image is now depleted to the extent that any policy attached to him – regardless of how popular it is in its own right – will be damaged by extension.
“Voters now don't trust the Prime Minister to deliver on other things,” James Johnson, former pollster to Theresa May and co-founder of JL Partners, told PoliticsHome.
“In advance of 2019 individual Labour policies were popular, but when they were attached to Corbyn’s name, they fell completely flat,” he added.
“We're starting to see the same thing happen with Boris Johnson now. He’s at risk of becoming a Conservative Corbyn.”
While the prime minister’s brand has suffered at the hands of partygate, Johnson says the Conservative party itself would likely experience a revival with a change of leadership.
“The Conservative brand is actually relatively buoyant still, we're not in a 90s style situation where the party has become toxic overall,” the pollster said.
“The brand damage is very localised to Boris Johnson and that’s a problem for the Conservatives when it comes to election because people, we are increasingly becoming a very presidential system in terms of how voters vote.”
With the impression that focus on matters such as the cost-of-living are being weighed down by a public partygate hangover, 28 Tory MPs have now publicly called for Johnson to resign.
A further 13 have made strong public critiques of the Prime Minister, including former minister Andrea Leadsom and Foreign Affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat.
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab described discussion of manoeuvres to oust Johnson as an issue whipped up by the “Westminster bubble”.
However, Johnson’s polling has found the public do not blame perpetuated partygate discourse on the media or Labour party.
“From mid-January, the average swing voter wanted Boris Johnson to resign and the average swing voter still thinks that,” the pollster said.
“They are increasingly seeing the reason that we're unable to move on from partygate doesn't lie with a media obsession with it, or an opposition obsession with it, it is because the people who have caused partygate are still in prominent positions.”
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