Boris Johnson is trailing Keir Starmer as he faces a week of vital elections – but the absence of an obvious Tory successor could ensure his survival as a leader.
That is the conclusion of an exclusive research by former Conservative Deputy Chairman Lord Ashcroft, published in today’s Mail on Sunday.
When asked to choose between a Conservative Government led by Boris Johnson and a Labor Government led by Sir Keir Starmer, 57 per cent of people backed Sir Keir, and 43 per cent backed Mr Johnson.
But the 8,000-sample survey also picked up a 55 per cent approval rating for the Prime Minister’s handling of the Ukrainian crisis, with just 25 per cent who disapprove.
Despite the rows still raging about ‘Partygate’, the survey says the cost of the living crisis is regarded as the most important issue facing the country, followed by the NHS, the economy, climate change and immigration.
Lord Ashcroft’s poll results (pictured) show high approval for Boris Johnson’s handling of the Ukraine crisis, but other aspects of his leadership are less popular
The Prime Minister was found to be the less popular option to lead a Government than Sir Kier Starmer
There is no question, however, that the Partygate allegations have damaged the Prime Minister, particularly among voters who switched to the Conservatives from Labor at the last Election – one third think he should resign over the issue.
Among voters as a whole, 47 per cent think he should resign, while 30 per cent disapprove of his actions but think he should stay to concentrate on more important issues, and 15 per cent dismiss the stories as trivial.
Lord Ashcroft concludes that there are three reasons why ‘Boris and his party have a path to survival’. First, many of those who objected to the Party-gate said it would not stop them voting Tory; second, there’s the lack of a Tory rival with the potential to turn around the party’s fortunes; and third, Sir Keir ‘has yet to take the nation by storm’.
The survey also found ‘very little enthusiasm for Labor… even among those… highly critical of Johnson and the Conservatives. There were concerns that Labor could not be trusted with public finances, and Starmer himself was widely thought to be criticizing the Government without offering any constructive alternatives. ‘
One focus group attendee said: ‘He’s a non-entity really. All he does is bitch about what everybody’s doing wrong, but he’s not telling us what he’ll do. ‘ Another said: ‘There’s no kind of solution coming out of his mouth.’
But voters did praise the woman of the moment: Labor’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner.
According to one participant: ‘We need someone like Angela Rayner – comes from a mining village, has been a carer for years. She’s got that passion to try and make a difference. ‘
Another commented: She doesn’t seem like a politician. She just seems like the woman who lives across the street and goes on a rant and a rave. ‘
LORD ASHCROFT: Three reasons why Boris Johnson can survive the public’s anger at Partygate
By Lord Ashcroft
Looking at my latest polling, it is easy to see why many believe that Boris Johnson’s Downing Street days are numbered.
The 8,000-sample survey shows the Opposition ahead not just on traditional Labor issues such as the NHS and public services, but on supposedly Tory territory such as immigration and crime.
When it comes to issues related to the premiership, Keir Starmer rates higher than Johnson in nearly all areas: communicating, leading a team, formulating effective policies, judging in a crisis – and doing the job of Prime Minister overall.
Apart from a willingness to take tough decisions for the long-term – a double-edged sword that can suggest callousness – the Conservatives lag behind Labor on all the qualities we asked about: unity, values, being ‘on the side of people like me ‘, having the right priorities and (disastrously for a center-right party) competence.
Polling by Lord Ashcroft has found that Prime Minister Boris Johnson scores lower than Sir Kier Starmer on a range of categories from communicating to judgment in a crisis
Sir Kier Starmer did score lower on willingness to take tough decisions for the long-term
The Government’s response to rocketing living costs has hardly helped. In our focus groups, a few wise souls always knew the lavish pandemic spending would have to be paid for and asked what any Minister could do in the face of global markets. But most of those who had noticed the March mini-Budget were unimpressed.
Not only did the help on offer feel derisory in comparison to tax and price rises, but revelations about the non-dom status of the Chancellor’s wife, the couple’s combined wealth and his apparent inability to make a contactless payment reinforced the impression of a Government at one remove from real people’s lives.
And that is before Partygate. Just under half of voters – including most 2019 Tories – think the issue is trivial or the PM should be allowed to concentrate on more important things. But the 47 per cent who told us he should resign included nearly a third of those who switched to the Conservatives from Labor at the last election.
Notably, in our groups it was often such first-time Tories who were angriest with Johnson. Having had the highest hopes for him, they were the most disappointed. They had regarded him as a maverick but not as a liar or lawbreaker. This episode showed him to be part of an elite that looked down on them, not – as they’d felt in 2019 – on their side against the Brexit-blocking establishment.
All of which helps to explain why, forced to choose between the Johnson-led Conservatives and a Starmer-led Labor Government, my poll had the latter ahead by a 14-point margin.
Despite Partygate, Lord Ashcroft believes the Prime Minister can continue to lead for reasons including a lack of successor and weak opposition
No wonder that so many believe Johnson is doomed, or that the Tories’ chances at the next election depend on his departure. But from my research, I see three reasons why Boris and his party have a path to survival.
First, though Partygate anger goes wide and, for some, deep, it is not clear it will be a dealbreaker. Often people would spend a good hour grumbling about Johnson and his party (and parties) and then say, usually with a sigh, that they would probably vote Tory again next time.
Four in ten of those leaning towards the Theories said they thought Johnson was a rogue and a chancer but that wouldn’t stop them voting for him. For some there was also a feeling that with Brexit, Covid and now Ukraine, he hadn’t really had a chance to show what he could do – a remarkable sentiment after 12 years of Tory-led government.
Second is the lack of an obvious successor, with no indication from our groups that any one figure had the potential to transform the party’s standing. Some continued to see Johnson as appealing, regarding his staying power as a trait of leadership.
Third, to put it kindly, Keir Starmer has yet to take the nation by storm. ‘It’s just’ we wouldn’t have done that ‘,’ one borderline voter told us. ‘Nothing to make me think’ this guy’s got a plan ‘. Some wondered if Labor had really changed and could be trusted, especially given Starmer’s previous incarnation in the Corbyn Shadow Cabinet.
For many, his apparent hedging on the question of what defines a woman said more about his fear of upsetting his party’s radical wing than about the issue itself: ‘He left it pretty wishy-washy, and I don’t want a wishy-washy Prime Minister, ‘said one.
All this suggests the poll numbers reflect a grumpiness with the status quo rather than a firm endorsement of the alternative.
Recent events have brought Johnson’s long-standing opponents into an alliance with some of those who helped put him in No. 10. His job is to persuade the latter that there is more that divides them from their new confederates than they have in common.
Voters won’t forget Partygate. The question is how many of them – given time, a proper apology and a renewed focus on other priorities – will forgive or at least disregard it. But time is just what his opponents don’t want to give Boris Johnson.
Full details of Lord Ashcroft’s research are at LordAshcroftPolls.com. Lord Ashcroft is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For information about his work, visit LordAshcroftPolls.com or LordAshcroft.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook: @LordAshcroft