New polling by Redfield & Wilton Strategies suggests Boris Johnson’s net approval rating has returned to levels not seen since the partygate scandals hit Downing Street in December. The Conservative Party also seems to have closed the gap with Labour in recent weeks, according to YouGov. Has the Ukraine crisis saved Boris Johnson’s premiership?
It’s important to remember that the power to remove the Prime Minister lies with back-bench Tory MPs. A leadership election will be triggered if 54 Conservative MPs send letters of no confidence to Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee. The polls will influence their decision: poor polling places their seats at risk. And if the Tory party is anything, it’s ruthlessly focused on winning elections. These figures, and the sombre tone a crisis such as Russia's war with Ukraine demands, seem to have quietened the rebellious rhetoric that characterised politics prior to the invasion.
Nonetheless, the mood among MPs can turn quickly. Remember, at the start of the Ukraine crisis, MPs were waiting for the conclusion of the Sue Gray report and the Metropolitan Police investigation. They are still waiting. The Conservative MP Mark Harper, a potential leader of any coup to oust Johnson, recently said that he will not decide whether to submit a letter until he has read Gray's report in full. The publication of those investigations could turn the conversation back to the government’s carelessness, and catalyse rebellion once again.
Meanwhile, the government may be in line for more criticism when it comes to Ukraine. Although Johnson has played a leading role in the international response to the invasion, his government is divided over how to react to the refugee crisis. This question of whether to open the UK's borders to the thousands of people fleeing Ukraine will persist, and any government incompetence will be laid bare over time.
On top of that, the cost-of-living crisis is set to worsen. Inflation is expected to peak to around 7.25 per cent in April. The war in Ukraine will exacerbate the energy crisis with oil prices surging, potentially further driving up the cost of living. And then the government is set to increase National Insurance in April, with Keir Starmer reportedly prepping Labour MPs to skewer the government over the issue in coming weeks. All of which could hit Johnson in the polls.
Johnson’s poll ratings may have risen, but that doesn’t mean his premiership has been saved.
[See also: Government confusion exposed by Ukrainian refugee crisis]