Until recently, the popularity of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson within his party and with the public made his position seem almost invulnerable. Today, 6 in 10 Britons believe he will be out of work by the end of next year.
In numbers : Johnson’s approval ratings have dropped to an all-time high of 30%, his Brexit negotiator has just stepped down and his image as an electoral juggernaut has been tarnished.
How did it happen: Johnson has been in the headlines since early November about ‘sordid’ in his party’s ranks (he decided to change the ethics rules in an ill-fated attempt to save scandal-tainted Brexiteer MP Owen Paterson) and his own house (he used a donation to renovate 10 Downing Street).
- He faced brutal media coverage on trivial (the bizarre speech in which he lost his place and mocked Peppa Pig) and substantial (the resignation of Brexit Minister David Frost on leading the Johnson government ).
- On COVID-19, he tried to walk a tightrope between science advisers pushing a stronger response to the Omicron wave and Tory backbench MPs resisting such measures – 100 of whom rebelled against Johnson during of last week’s vote to require COVID passes to enter certain major venues.
Then there are the parties, or “business meetings”, depending on who you ask.
- Johnson has denied a first wave of reports of the Christmas holidays in Downing Street during last year’s strict lockdown. Then came a video leak from his spokesperson joking about such a party at the time.
- Johnson tasked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate whether any such parties had taken place, but Case resigned after it emerged his office could have hosted one.
On Sunday, The Guardian posted a photo, taken during another strict lockdown in May 2020, of Johnson sitting with his wife and assistants in the Downing Street Garden, with wine and cheese on the table and a dozen more assistants gathered in the background.
- Johnson insists the photo shows “people at work talking about work”. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab reinforced his own claim from a business meeting by noting that the people in the photo were wearing suits (most were not).
The big picture: Johnson’s political allies have forgiven him all kinds of sins in the past because he is a proven election winner.
- Since London began directly electing mayors in 2000, Johnson has been the only Conservative to win. He did it twice.
- Johnson led the underdogs pro-Brexit campaign, made it through the 2019 Tory leadership election, and then won the party’s biggest general election landslide in three decades.
- But when Paterson’s seat was vacant for a special election Thursday, the Tory candidate was plagued with questions about Johnson’s integrity (which he declined to answer). The Conservatives lost a seat they had held for 200 years, and the party’s former electoral savior began to look like a handicap.
Inventory: Labor currently leads the Tories in the polls for the first time since Johnson became Tory leader, but an election is not expected until 2024.
- If Johnson is indeed to be ousted in 2022, the push will have to come from his own party. Imminent action on this front seems unlikely, although Tory MPs have started stabbing Johnson anonymously in the press.