Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Conservatives
1 February 2022

Boris Johnson’s toxicity has an upside – it damages his potential successors

As the partygate scandal deepens, Rishi Sunak is seeing his approval ratings slide.

By Stephen Bush

Crisis over? That’s the story that large numbers of Conservative MPs are telling themselves, anyway. Some of the named plotters – like Birmingham Northfield’s MP Gary Sambrook – have publicly recanted their calls for him to go.

Most MPs privately think that Boris Johnson’s response to Sue Gray’s update – in which he repeated unfounded conspiracy theories about Keir Starmer – lacked both class and political nous. But the reality is that not much as changed: because the number of angry letters from constituents has declined, because Conservative MPs aren’t yet sold on any of the available candidates, Boris Johnson survives now.

The gamble that Tory MPs are taking, though, is that persisting on their current course won’t cause damage to the whole enterprise. Andrew Mitchell, one of several Conservative MPs to make a critical intervention in the Commons yesterday, this morning compared the Prime Minister to “battery acid”: and that’s probably a pretty good way of thinking about the Conservative party’s Johnson problem.

The Prime Minister is corrosive. His unpopularity is surely one reason why Rishi Sunak, the party’s most popular politician and biggest political asset at the moment, is seeing his approval ratings slide. Yes, the pressures on the cost of living and the Channel crossings are part of the picture, too: but given Labour leads not only in voting intention but on tackling various ‘issues’ from crime to the NHS to the economy, clearly something bigger is going on than just the wear and tear of events.

His continued presence makes it harder to see how any of his would-be successors could turn things around: and the longer the Prime Minister survives, the better his chances of leading his party into the next election, for no other reason than every day weakens and diminishes the alternatives to him a little bit further.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. Your guide to the best writing across politics, ideas, books and culture - both in the New Statesman and from elsewhere - sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Topics in this article :