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26 November 2021

Could Boris Johnson survive another Christmas lockdown?

A new variant and rising cases across Europe could prompt the Prime Minister to impose harsher restrictions in the UK. Would the public tolerate it?

By Ben Walker and Valeria Cardi

November 2021 saw Covid cases across Europe surge once more. Sharp rises in Austria, the Netherlands and Germany have made some governments reintroduce restrictions. 

In Britain cases are up too, and the damage is being most felt in the average wait times for ambulances, the highest this October since records began. The Prime Minister has refused to rule out a new national lockdown this winter. Christmas could be cancelled again.

However, unlike the last winter, close to four in every five (75 per cent) of UK citizens are vaccinated – a higher figure than in Germany (70 per cent). If Boris Johnson does opt for caution and announces a lockdown in the UK once more, will the public abide by new regulations? Could, instead, cancelling Christmas be the end of the Prime Minister’s premiership?

It appears that UK citizens, however, are not paying attention as much attention to Covid right now as they have done before. Concern around the virus is now at its lowest level since the crisis began. With every passing week voters are more concerned with the economy, jobs and with “getting back to normal”, than they are with Covid-19.

With that in mind, moves to lock down the country will no doubt frustrate most voters, and with Johnson’s reputation already battered from the spate of sleaze stories, enough MPs and enough voters might think it would be time for him to move on.

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But Johnson has been here before. The rigmarole and, simply, pure chaos of the local lockdowns last year sent perceptions about the government being competent into a tailspin – but it didn’t bring the government down. Voters felt the restrictions were a necessity, and while Brits are less concerned about Covid now than they’ve ever been, they’re still cautious.

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Almost as many today are fearful of catching the virus as there were mere days before our first ever lockdown in March last year. While cancelling Christmas would be disappointing, many voters would still accept new restrictions as a necessity.

So no, cancelling Christmas would not cancel Boris Johnson. But can he sleep any easier about his future?

Over the past few months the poll numbers have narrowed significantly and in November we saw the first Labour leads for quite some time. Voters care less about covid, less about the vaccine roll-out, and so feel less obliged to back the government. The spate of sleaze has only accelerated that drift. 

However, the people who backed the Tories in 2019 are not moving to Labour en masse. Very few are. What’s driving this drift in Tory support is a lot of those voters are now unsure whether they’ll stick with the Conservatives again. These numbers would wipe out the Tory majority, but it wouldn’t put Labour close to an election win.

So while sleaze has punctured Tory support, it hasn’t demolished it. The thing that could cause the biggest headache for the Prime Minister is what’s still to come. 

We know that an interest rates rise is on its way, and the general cost of living is also due to spike. We know that the economy is going through a rough patch, and voters feel it. This year, many homes made more money than the actual people living in them. This has been firm ground for the Tories for years: not since 2013 has Labour come close to being seen as the best party to manage the economy. If the Conservative Party’s reputation on being able to handle the economy is damaged, so too is its credibility to govern.

So what will bring down Boris Johnson? It won’t be cancelling Christmas. And it won’t be sleaze. But, if handled badly, it might just be the issue felt most at home: the cost of living.

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