A consensus is forming among Conservative and Labour politicians alike that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has strengthened Boris Johnson’s political position in the UK.
While it is, of course, tasteless to contemplate anyone benefiting from this war, this is nevertheless a subject of conversation in Westminster, if in private.
After weeks of damaging stories about parties at No 10 during Covid restrictions, a Cabinet Office inquiry, an ongoing Metropolitan Police investigation, and Johnson’s Jimmy Savile smear against Keir Starmer, it looked at many points as if the Prime Minister might be toppled by his furious MPs. Then the escalating situation in Ukraine overshadowed the news that Johnson appeared to be the first UK prime minister interviewed under caution. The day before the full-scale invasion, leaked details of a police questionnaire sent to Johnson and other alleged partygoers showed it invited recipients to provide “a written statement under caution”.
However, exclusive polling for the New Statesman by the polling company Redfield & Wilton Strategies reveals that even a week into the war, the British public has largely not changed its mind about Johnson, with most still wanting him to resign. The survey of a weighted sample of 1,500 voters in Great Britain was carried out on 2 March 2022.
A majority, 54 per cent, said that they believed Boris Johnson should resign as Prime Minister, while 35 per cent believed he should stay. Two thirds (66 per cent) said that his response to the war had not changed their view. Just 22 per cent of respondents said they had a more positive view of Johnson as a result of his response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, whereas 12 per cent had a more negative view.
It is true that Conservative voters are more supportive, with 64 per cent saying he should stay in his position and just 30 per cent that he should resign, and 30 per cent saying they have a more positive view of him since the war began against 8 per cent with a more negative view. Yet even among Tory voters, 62 per cent said that Johnson’s response to the invasion of Ukraine had not changed their view of him.
These results suggest a feeling of distrust lingers among the British public since the partygate scandal. Indeed, the polling shows the vast majority — 84 per cent — did not attend a social gathering when the restrictions prohibited it. Of those categorised as employed or self-employed, 88 per cent said they did not attend a social gathering with colleagues at their workplace when the restrictions didn’t allow it.
If public opinion hasn’t softened, Johnson’s position remains precarious, with potential stumbling blocks in the near future including being fined by the police, a poor showing in the May local elections for the Tories, and the publication of the Cabinet Office report in full.
As one Tory MP who stopped short of calling on Johnson to resign, and has been less critical of him since the war began, told me, it’s an issue of trust. “If it turns out he misled Parliament [on partygate], do we really want him to be the one speaking in the Commons about the war?”