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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

Topics in this article: ,