Sleaze-hit Boris Johnson loses poll lead

·3-min read
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

An exclusive Ipsos MORI survey for the Standard finds that Boris Johnson’s ‘good Prime Minister’ rating has fallen to its lowest level since he entered Number 10.

The poll also placed the Conservatives on 35 per cent, down four points on September. That leaves them one point behind Labour, who should themselves be concerned that weaker Tory support did not benefit them, unchanged as they are on 36 per cent.

Now, friends don’t let friends get too excited about one opinion survey in the middle of a pandemic roughly three years out from a general election.

But perhaps the most intriguing element of this poll is that much of the fieldwork took place prior to the Owen Paterson U-turn and resignation. In other words, it is at least in part about something else.

The term ‘Tory sleaze’ was popularised in the 1990s and referred to a whole manner of stories involving corruption and ‘love’ life. Sleaze and Europe dominated much of John Major’s premiership (plus ça change), yet would likely not have grabbed hold of the public imagination with quite the same force were it not for one event, and the fallout from it.

That was Black Wednesday, whose central consequence was to precipitate a collapse in the very idea of Conservative economic competence.

Sleaze is politically unhelpful. Governments should try to avoid it. But the public already largely views most politicians as liars at best or corrupt at worst.

They are therefore, like Casablanca’s Captain Renault, only faking their shock (shock!) when politicians are caught on the take. And that is only the financial aspect of sleaze. Many voters seem to rather enjoy reading about the sex stuff.

There is however one important caveat. If you’re going to involve yourself in dodgy deals or conduct an affair while wearing a Chelsea kit (in fairness to David Mellor, this did not actually happen), you damn well better make sure taxes are falling, real wages are rising and people believe you are basically on their side.

Loyal readers know what stat I’m going to deploy next: the OBR has forecast that real household disposable income will be virtually stagnant over the next few years. That does not a prospectus for a popular government make.

Voters will forgive a lot for a growing economy (or fear of handing the keys to the other guys). Labour won the 2005 election – after the invasion of Iraq and non-discovery of WMD – on the basis of its handling of the economy. But sleaze and plateauing living standards are a toxic combination.

As for Labour, their challenge is to present themselves as more competent and more in touch than the Tories, thereby offering a way out of the pain. Going by today’s poll numbers, the public is yet to be convinced.

In the comment pages, Stephen King writes that when it comes to the economy we are flying blind and that’s terrifying. Meanwhile, from ox horn carvings to a ‘guided virtual bathtub experience’: Goop’s Xmas gift list is mad as ever, reveals Natasha Mwansa.

And finally, what does a city sound like? From markets to urban foxes, birdsong to bridges - it is all on the London Sound Survey. Susannah Butter pays tribute to its creator, Ian Rawes.

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