Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
2 October 2017

Why Boris Johnson is playing a dangerous game

Irritation is growing at the Foreign Secretary's need to be the centre of attention.

By Stephen Bush

Welcome to the latest episode of Everybody Tolerates Boris Johnson, or Conservative party conference as it is more commonly known.

Theresa May kicked off the event with an interview with Andrew Marr in which she refused to comment on whether or not the Foreign Secretary was unsackable. Of course, she’s already confirmed that de facto by not sacking him after his 4,200-word article on Brexit in the Telegraph. But it’s the Sun that Johnson is making waves in this week, with a series of further demands on the PM, laying out four further red lines over Brexit on Saturday and calling for Dfid to be folded back into the Foreign Office today.

Tune in next week, when Johnson will be discussing what colour May should paint Downing Street’s wallpaper in the Express.

Among ministers and MPs, irritation is growing at the Foreign Secretary’s need to be the centre of attention and the distraction it creates from their efforts to get back on the front foot. “What a time to be squabbling!” squeals the Mail on their splash. But it seems to be working for Johnson as far as his real target goes: he’s back up to top spot in the latest ConservativeHome Tory leader survey. A majority of his colleagues may want him gone, but as long as he can pull in enough votes to finish second in the leadership race it looks as if he’ll be difficult to beat.

But outside of the confines of the conference centre, on this, it looks as if Conservative MPs are more attuned to the public than their grassroots. The latest Polling London survey shows a remarkable fall-off in Johnson’s standing in the capital. Just over a year ago, he left office as mayor with a net approval rating of +20 per cent among Londoners. Now it has dwindled to the point where he is seen as the least effective of all three of London’s mayors.

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. 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 weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

In London the issue of Brexit is particularly acute, of course, but it’s not just the capital where turning off social liberals and affluent ethnic minorities is losing Tory seats. An Opinium survey for the Social Market Foundation shows that he has lost his lustre across the country.

Johnson is playing a great game if the question is leveraging enough support from the Tory right to make the run-off among members. But if the question is how he can not only become but remain prime minister, not so much.