Boris Johnson: Not the people’s PM

Dakshiani D Palicha | Updated on August 09, 2019 Published on August 09, 2019

Britain's new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, delivers a speech outside Downing Street, in London, Britain July 24, 2019.   -  REUTERS

Public opinion may cost Johnson in a general election

Since taking office on July 24, the UK’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already faced his first setback. A by-election in the Brecon and Radnorshire region of Wales saw the Conservative Party’s Chris Davies lose his seat to Liberal Democrat candidate Jane Dodds, whittling the Conservatives’ working majority in Parliament down to one.

This loss has not just been a significant blow to the Conservative Party – which ironically has been leading opinion polls as an effect of what the UK media is calling the “Boris Bounce” – but also increases the chance for a general election so that the party and the new PM can reaffirm their position in Parliament.

Johnson inherited a deeply divided UK from Theresa May, and there have been numerous calls (one of the loudest being from Labour leader and PM race runner-up Jeremy Corbyn) for a general election to allow the public to decide the future course of the government.

May too, declared a snap election after taking office in 2017, which she lost badly, forcing the party to form a minority government

That said, a general election may not be the best course of action for Johnson, especially with the looming October 31 deadline for Brexit, which he has promised to deliver, with or without a deal. This apart, as Corbyn and others have repeatedly said, Johnson was not elected by the people of the UK, but rather by politicians who represent less than 1 per cent of the population.

The question here is whether Boris Johnson can hold his own in a general election, especially because personally, he isn’t very well-liked.

A survey published by market research and data analytics firm YouGov showed that 58 per cent of respondents had a negative view of Johnson, making him significantly less favourable than Theresa May when she took over a PM. Three out of five people also said Johnson cannot be trusted as a leader.

However, it may be noted here that the survey stated respondents preferred Johnson to Corbyn for the post of Prime Minister.

Johnson’s unfavourable public perception also showed on the day of his coronation, with multiple protests – by environmental group Greenpeace as well as anti-Johnson and anti-Conservative activists – took to the streets of London.

A large part of this dislike can be attributed to some of his past statements, which were largely perceived as outlandish, offensive and sometimes ignorant.

One of the most glaring examples of this came in 2018, during the Irish border debate. The border that separates the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland was central to the decades-long conflict between the two states which saw the death of over 3,000 people. The border was ultimately softened as part of the Good Friday Agreement. Free trade movement between the UK and the EU resulted in greater cooperation, and whether or not Brexit will mean an end to the arrangement has been a kind of lynchpin in negotiations.

Last year, Johnson while discussing the issue compared the crossing of Irish border to travelling between the boroughs of London, a move that many saw as a trivialisation of the two nations’ history.

His other famous gaffes include calling burqa-clad women “letterboxes” and reciting a colonial poem in a Myanmar temple.

While public perception can be seen, at best, divided over Boris Johnson being Prime Minister, it is even more split regarding Brexit, which is to take place in less than 100 days. And if the Boris Bounce holds, the best bet for the Conservatives is to prepare to deliver Brexit as promised, even without a deal before declaring general election. This will, at the very least, show the public that the party has kept their promise.

Published on August 09, 2019
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.