Is Boris Johnson’s Premiership On Borrowed Time?

This article first appeared at on 18th June 2020

To reiterate the obvious, political fortunes change faster than ever. Seven months on from securing the biggest Tory majority, and two months on from attaining near ‘national treasure’ status whilst recovering from coronavirus, we need to pay serious attention to the betting about Boris Johnson’s exit date.

Johnson rated likelier than not to be gone by 2024

This market is moving. From substantial sums being matched at [1.4] and below, the PM is now rated less than 50% likely to still be in post by 2024 at odds of [2.04].

To be fair, there is little suggestion of imminent change. Odds of [7.8] about available a 2020 exit and Johnson is rated 64% likely to still be in post two years from now, in July 2022, at odds of [1.53]. Nevertheless, the betting trends reflect rising speculation that he won’t lead the Tories into the next election.

It comes in the wake of a terrible news cycle for the government. Their management of the Covid crisis is derided around the world and coming in for ever more criticism at home. Less than a third of the public approve of their measures.

The Dominic Cummings lockdown scandal may have at least exacerbated two problems. First, it squandered much public goodwill. Second, it aggravated a media who were already revolting over their treatment.

Multiple reports of unease amongst colleagues

More significant are the criticisms personal to Johnson, emanating from friends, rather than enemies. More than a week ago Andrew Neil reported unease among Tory MPs. Last weekend’s press saw that repeated by credible Westminster insiders Tim Shipman of the Sunday Times and Andrew Rawnsley at The Observer.

This was before the humiliating u-turn over free school meals, in response to Marcus Rashford’s campaign. Before Johnson stretched credulity by claiming he hadn’t heard of the campaign until Tuesday. Before the Rashford story gathered steam, Johnson had already fallen 30% behind Keir Starmer in terms of aggregate approvals.

Johnson’s approval ratings have collapsed with rapid speed. Throughout April and May, the PM’s ratings were ranging between +20 to +40 positive – in keeping with the ‘national unity’ boost enjoyed by most world leaders. Now they’re negative, by up to 7%.

Tories still ahead in polls

That scale doesn’t apply so clearly to reflect the Conservatives. Whilst they have fallen from heights that would be deemed extraordinary during that peak period, they are still leading by up to 8%, on a similar tally to that achieved last December. Considering how bad the news cycle has been, they will be encouraged. The entrenched divide that has hardened since Brexit persists.

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