Britain in numbers

  1. Boris Johnson
September 2, 2022

Does Britain want Boris Johnson back?

The Prime Minister’s policies remain attractive, but the personality has run out of road.

By Ben Walker

First, there’s the petition – the one signed by 8,700 supposed members of the Conservative Party to reinstate Boris Johnson as leader and prime minister. Then there’s the poll that puts him ahead of both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, the Conservative leadership candidates. Thus, a large proportion of the current Tory party membership wants Johnson to stay on as Prime Minister, and they want to shelve the leadership election that has plagued their summer like a bad airport novel.

Neither candidate to succeed Johnson has overwhelming approval among the approximately 175,000 party members that make the choice, less still the British electorate. Sunak, once the favourite, crashed and burned following his Spring Statement when chancellor earlier this year; he has been playing catch-up ever since. Truss, while preferable to Tory members, now trails Keir Starmer as the nation’s preferred prime minister. Whoever succeeds Johnson will be on the back foot on the issues that matter most to voters. With projections such as these, it’s inevitable that some of those who hankered for Johnson’s exit may now be feeling a bit of seller’s remorse.

Would Johnson be more successful with the nation as a whole, though? Members of the Conservative Party are divorced from the rest of the country on issues of policy and personality. With Johnson, there is no exception. In the immediate aftermath of his resignation, a large majority (70 per cent) of the country said it was right that he did so, and this included a majority among those who voted Conservative in 2019 (55 per cent). Now, according to YouGov, a slim majority of Tory voters say the parliamentary party was wrong to remove him.

This seller’s remorse, however, is reserved to just half the Tory base, and a minority of those that backed Leave. There isn’t a single polled region in which the desire for his return is higher than 30 per cent.

Johnson struggles to attain plurality, let alone majority, approval from those that put him into office in 2019. The Conservative base, now apathetic and hollowed out, gave him only 43 per cent approval as prime minister upon his announced resignation. Leave voters, the silent majority that upended British politics, also do not look highly on him. In the days after his 2019 election win, he had the approval of 74 per cent of them. Now that number has crashed to just 43 per cent, a drop of 31 percentage points.

The Johnsonian crusade to level up the north and west still has currency among potential Conservative voters, however. Those that came out for the Tories in 2019 in those former Labour seats are still potential backers of whoever the next leader is. They aren’t staunchly Labour, as they used to be; they’re new swing voters. But they're not pro-Johnson. According to the pollsters Redfield and Wilton, as many voters in the so-called Red Wall disapprove of Johnson as those that disapprove of him in the whole nation. Whatever advantage Johnson has – or rather, had – in the marginals that matter is minute at best, non-existent at worst.

Does Britain want Boris Johnson back? No. The promises he made remain attractive, but the personality has run out of road.

[See also: Britain Predicts: who would win the next general election]