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LONDON — It must have been too electable to ignore.
The bad boy of British politics, who possessed a feline ability to come back from the dead, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s success hinged on his party collectively picking a nose and still supporting him.
Now, forced out of Downing Street when he lost his cabinet’s support last summer and is no longer an MP after resigning pending the verdict of a committee set to investigate whether he had lied to parliament, Johnson’s appeal has slowly faded. eroded.
« His popularity has steadily declined since partygate, » said YouGov’s Anthony Wells. « And there’s no obvious sign of opinion about him recovering from the last time he left office. »
As his rating has plummeted in polls, support among his backlog MPs has also declined, many of whom were originally elected on a surge in Boris fandom in 2019.
When he appeared before the committee last week in March which he dubbed a « kangaroo tribunal », his team warned reporters that there would be supporting MPs waiting nearby and willing to talk to the press later. In the end only one, backbencher Brendan Clarke-Smith, showed up and he didn’t stay long.
“I don’t think you’re in the Conservative Party or anywhere else, nobody misses drama [of the Johnson premiership]Energy Secretary Grant Shapps told Times Radio on Sunday. « The world has moved on. »
Another minister observed that he was “the author of his own destruction, but then he never knew how to behave. Better go ahead. While a third, who backed Johnson for Tory leadership in 2019, looked relieved, saying: ‘We’re on him. It’s over, thank goodness.
Current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s headache was prolonged when, following Johnson’s announcement that he was stepping down as MP, two allies of the former prime minister – former ministers Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams – also joined they resigned, triggering three embarrassing by-elections that the Conservatives could lose.
Yet the trio has not been followed – at least so far – by further displays of solidarity, suggesting Johnson’s departure will be a significant moment for the party he has dominated for the last decade, but not an existential crisis.
On the slide
After swinging up and down during the pandemic, Johnson’s ratings have slipped from the summer of 2021 onwards and when he left office he had a net preference of -42 percent. Interviewed earlier this year, 55 percent said they would be unhappy to see him return.
There is some evidence that voters are tired not only of Johnson as a leader but also of the constant psychodrama he embodies.
Luke Tryl, who runs focus groups for More in Common, notes a mood of « burnout » among attendees, who would much rather talk about the NHS and the cost of living than the tribulations of the Tory party.
But despite the obvious signs of fatigue in his own party and in the vast electorate, there are those who believe he can still return to power.
« It can never be canceled, » said David Jones, a former minister and outspoken Brexiteer. « He is an extraordinary politician ».
A Conservative MP for a disadvantaged constituency said while he accepted that the wider party had fallen out of love with him, ‘my perception is skewed living in a place where I believe he is still immensely popular – I don’t think you should ever write that off.
YouGov’s Wells pointed out that while Johnson’s popularity has declined, it hasn’t completely disappeared. “There is still a very solid piece of [Conservative voters] who have a positive opinion of him. While 56 percent of the public would not want Johnson back as an MP, there are 25 percent who, according to a survey carried out on Monday.
Even without looking at a return to frontline politics, Johnson has the power to inflict pain on Sunak, obviously tuning in to discontent with current tax levels and accusing the government of abandoning « true conservatism. »
He may be unpopular with his colleagues right now, but the picture could become less certain if the Conservatives lose the next election and find themselves without an obvious successor to Sunak.
There is also the possibility that Johnson will be relying on his personal appeal to reach outside the party, as Nigel Farage has done urged him to do.
But there’s a small, fundamental difference between Johnson’s position now and his mythic ability to win people over. In the last two major opportunities he’s had to test others’ opinion of him—the latest Conservative leadership contest and a potential by-election in place of him—he chose to walk away instead.
Emilio Casalicchio and Eleni Courea contributed reporting.