Boris Johnson: Plunging poll ratings and increasingly mutinous MPs – can PM be an election-winning hero again?

Two years after winning a famous general election victory with a majority of 80, Boris Johnson has gone from hero to zero, with the public and Conservative MPs.

On the second anniversary of winning the Tories’ biggest Commons majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987, he has stumbled from triumph, to disaster after disaster.

He has even been ridiculed – twice – by Ant and Dec on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, including the ominous warning: “Evening prime minister… for now!”

Tory rebellion

The opinion polls are dire. The PM’s personal rating has plunged through the floor and this weekend Labour is suddenly enjoying poll leads of between six and nine points.

His MPs are increasingly mutinous. Many fear the vote winner, superstar and darling of “Red Wall” voters in 2019 has become tainted by sleaze and is a liability.

Even Mr Johnson‘s old allies among the Brexiteer “Spartans”, who toppled Theresa May and paved the way for him to succeed her, have turned against him in their fury at his COVID curbs.

Coronavirus rebel Steve Baker, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, claims the government is “squandering the goodwill and trust” of people who voted Tory two years ago.

“Across a range of issues, today’s Conservative Party is in the wrong place and heading in the opposite direction of Conservativism,” he writes.

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A miserable week for the prime minister

Nothing seems to be going right at present. In the seven days leading up to this anniversary, and in what was supposed to be “Crime Week”, the PM had hoped to launch a political fightback after a calamitous month.

But instead, Crime Week saw the police asked to investigate a lockdown-busting party inside 10 Downing Street and claims that Mr Johnson misled parliament by denying a party took place.

The PM has also faced accusations that he misled his own ethnics adviser when he learned that a multi-millionaire Tory donor funded the lavish makeover of his Downing Street flat.

And to cap it all, a miserable Crime Week for the Tories ended with the disclosure that a former MP and minister had raped his ex-wife while she slept and physically abused her. Not the PM’s fault, obviously, but is his luck running out?

There’s also little respite in store for Mr Johnson over the next seven days.

He faces a humiliating Tory rebellion in a Commons vote on his Plan B COVID curbs on Tuesday and potential disaster in the North Shropshire by-election on Thursday.

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Triumph to turbulence

What a turnaround in just over six months. In May, after Tory triumphs in the local elections and the Hartlepool by-election, there was heady talk of Mr Johnson looking forward to another 10 years in Number 10 and beating Mrs Thatcher’s 11 years in power.

Now some MPs are claiming that if the Tories lose in North Shropshire and voters punish them for sleaze in next May’s local elections he could be replaced by Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss, who it’s claimed are on leadership manoeuvres.

Naturally, the defining issue of the two years since Mr Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done” election triumph of 12 December 2019 has been the government’s response to the pandemic: lockdowns, face masks, travel bans and vaccinations.

But the past two years have been turbulent for Mr Johnson personally too. Last year he spent a week in hospital with the virus, including three nights in intensive care, and narrowly escaped death. He has also got divorced, remarried and had two children.

He hired and fired Dominic Cummings, who has now become a sworn enemy and seems hell-bent on bringing him down. But he was criticised for clinging on – unsuccessfully – to then Health Secretary Matt Hancock after his affair with an aide was caught on a CCTV camera.

But after a “vaccine bounce” in the polls in the spring and summer, this autumn has seen the prime minister and the government lurch from one blunder to another, most of which – Mr Johnson’s critics claim – have been self-inflicted and could have been avoided.

Owen Paterson miscalculation

Things started to go disastrously wrong with the crass decision to back Owen Paterson, the Brexiteer former Cabinet minister, after he was found guilty of an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules by an all-party Commons committee.

Mr Johnson flew back to London from the COP26 summit in Glasgow to attend a claret and pheasant dinner at the men-only Garrick Club where his fellow guests included some of Mr Paterson’s most vocal cheerleaders.

The following day, in one of the biggest political miscalculations by a prime minister in recent times, he ordered his MPs to vote down a proposed 30-day suspension of Mr Paterson, a vote that provoked uproar and led to a U-turn within 24 hours. Mr Paterson then quit, causing Thursday’s by-election.

It was this fiasco that triggered the breakdown in relations between the prime minister and many of his MPs, particularly those in the “Red Wall” seats won from Labour for the first time two years ago.

Blunder after blunder

Then came Mr Johnson’s calamitous speech to the CBI, where his notes got jumbled up and he started rambling about Peppa Pig. A lack of respect for his audience, critics claimed, not surprisingly, given his well-known little regard for the organisation, which he privately views as being full of whingeing Remoaners.

Even the good news of a £96bn investment in the railways was bungled as the promise to build the cross-Pennine Northern Powerhouse Rail link and extend HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds was broken and hit the buffers.

But it has been the allegations about Downing Street parties and “wallpaper-gate” that have led to suggestions that some Conservative MPs are even considering writing letters to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady demanding a vote of no confidence in their 2019 election winner.

Popularity at an all-time low

Sir Keir Starmer’s charge of “one rule for Boris Johnson and his friends and another for everyone else” has Tory MPs rattled and provided the Labour leader with his PMQs quip: “Even Ant and Dec are ahead of the prime minister on this!”

Not entirely helpfully, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who last year quit as a junior minister over Dominic Cummings’ Barnard Castle “eyesight” trip, said Mr Johnson “cannot continue in the highest office in the land” if he misled MPs.

And this weekend’s polls are terrible, suggesting the PM’s popularity has dropped to an all-time low, and Labour’s nine-point lead over the Tories in one poll, by Opinium, is the highest since March 2014.

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In another article this weekend, Mr Baker wrote: “We can’t go on like this. This can’t be how a country is governed. I would dearly love to see Boris grip this mess and turn things round. The time to do this is not much longer.”

Really? That would suggest Mr Johnson may not be around to see the third anniversary of his 2019 election victory if he doesn’t get a grip on the mess.

Unthinkable? Tory MPs dumped Mrs Thatcher six months after she lost a by-election in a safe Tory seat, Eastbourne, in 1990. But she had been prime minister for 11 years and party leader for 16. That’s the big difference.

Boris Johnson’s personal poll ratings may be a long way below zero this weekend. But he and his supporters remain defiant and will claim he still has plenty of time to be an election-winning hero again.

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