News emerged today (12 April) that Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and a slew of Downing Street staffers have been issued with fines for breaking lockdown laws.
This is the first time that a British prime minister has admitted breaking the law. Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has led calls for the resignations of both Johnson and Sunak, the Chancellor, and snap surveys from Savanta ComRes and YouGov suggest that the public wants the same. Cynically (or realistically), however, few expect this to happen.
According to Savanta ComRes 61 per cent of people believe Johnson should resign but just 10 per cent expect that he will.
In the case of Sunak, 59 per cent think he should resign and 15 per cent think that he will.
According to YouGov 75 per cent of Britons think that the Prime Minister knowingly lied about whether he broke lockdown rules. This figure includes 55 per cent of current Conservative supporters. Only 19 per cent of Leave voters believe Johnson did not knowingly lie. At any rate, just 30 per cent think that the Prime Minister should remain in his role.
These figures are stark but it remains to be seen what impact this will have on our politics in the weeks and months to come. Public attention has drifted from partygate to Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis in recent weeks. Attention on the Downing Street parties had, until now, been at a notable low since January.
Opposition parties therefore need to strike a balancing act between holding the government accountable over partygate while giving due attention to the issues voters are most concerned about -- prices and the living standards crisis. Rishi Sunak’s recent nose-dive in the polls was not due to the furore surrounding the tax status of his wife but his perceived failure to respond effectively to the cost-of-living crisis in his Spring Statement.
While Westminster should rightly condemn the law-breaking occupant of Downing Street, it should not get too carried away.