Johnson’s return would be hilarious if it wasn’t actually quite smart

  • Post last modified:March 10, 2024
  • Reading time:14 mins read

Boris Johnson – what can he do? Things look increasingly bleak for the Tories, with every move on their part instigating a greater dip in their fortunes. Just look at the general election polls which took place after the budget that was supposed to turn it all around:

Give how dire things have become, it’s obvious the Tories need a change. Their plan? To go back to the guy they already booted out – i.e. Johnson. The plan isn’t for Johnson to come back and to lead them to victory, however – instead they want him to return and spearhead a somewhat less than calamitous defeat:

Johnson returns

Johnson’s return wouldn’t be unexpected, as he’s been lingering in the political wings like a bad smell:

Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Glen Owen reports:

Tory MPs have launched a new drive to remove Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister after the Budget failed to improve his polling figures – with Boris Johnson top of their wish-list as his replacement.

And that a:

poll concluded that only Mr Johnson could save the Tories from a catastrophic defeat.

One MP at the meeting, which was held shortly before the Budget, said: ‘I previously thought it would be too reckless to remove yet another Prime Minister, but now I don’t think we have any choice.’

They reported that the woman leading the charge – Judith McAlpine – said:

As far as I am concerned the Tory party is rotten to the core. We need new Conservative values, and Boris is the person to deliver that.

He is the only person with the charisma to lead the party to success. We need Boris back.

Indeed, because nothing says ‘new values’ like a guy whose been failing the country for decades.

A big issue for Tories is that Nigel Farage’s Reform Party is approaching from the rear:

Since Jeremy Hunt delivered his Budget on Wednesday, the Tories’ standing in the polls has fallen as low as 18 per cent, with Nigel Farage’s Reform just five per cent behind.

If repeated at a general election, the Conservatives would be wiped out as a political force.

Last night, a former Cabinet Minister said: ‘If Boris came back for the General Election it could save as many as 80 MPs. It would give Conservatives hope, a reason to vote.

‘If Boris is out in the cold, voters will simply stay at home and sit on their hands. The party needs to wake up fast – these weeks before the local elections could be crucial.’

So that’s the big plan.

Bring back Johnson and lose less worse than they would under Sunak.

But could it work?

Send in the clown

Unlike Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, Johnson has at least won an election. That won’t necessarily give an indication of how he’ll do in the upcoming ballot, however, as the 2019 election essentially became a second Brexit referendum.

Johnson certainly has some strengths in comparison to Starmer – namely that he:

  • Has a personality.
  • Will literally say anything to win.

You could argue that Johnson’s personality is bad, but you can at least watch him talk without hearing the tick-tock of your life passing away; the same cannot be said of Starmer.

You could equally argue that just saying anything to win is bad, and surely the public won’t let him get away with it again?

With Johnson supporters, however, there’s definitely a sunk-cost fallacy going on. Much like gamblers who tell themselves they’re one roll away from a payout, people who’ve put their faith in Johnson need to believe that sooner or later he’ll deliver.

If he doesn’t, that feeling of being duped will never go away – duped by a man who who’s so obviously untrustworthy he could have played a 60s-style Batman villain called The Duper.

Johnson’s willingness to say whatever will certainly be a strength against Starmer, as the Labour leader seems to have the opposite inclination. Starmer has used his party’s polling lead to abandon all of the party’s most popular policy positions. For instance, Labour is advocating (or has advocated in the past 12 months) for positions which are:

These positions are simultaneously:

So why have such bad politics? The answer, to many, seems obvious. They’re adopting these positions to appease their wealthy backers:

Johnson is in a more fortunate position than Starmer, in that backers are happy for him to say whatever, knowing full well he’ll weasel out of it further down the line. As such, we could see an election in which the Tories are superficially to the left of Labour on many positions.

Johnson v Starmer

Boris Johnson is currently the most popular Conservative in the country. However, being the most popular politician in an unpopular party is hardly a universal endorsement, and far more people dislike him than the reverse:

Johnson polling election

The threat to Labour is that Keir Starmer’s polling isn’t much better:

Notice that Starmer’s ‘fame’ score is less than Johnson’s, and his ‘neutral’ score is higher? That’s because fewer people know who he is or what he’s about. We’d argue his ‘popularity’ is also skewed by people not having a measure of him, and that a six-week election campaign will inevitably worsen his standing.

Starmer is repellant in every way imaginable. It’s not just that he has bad politics, a history of flip-flopping, and zero charisma; he also has a weird voice and the cold, dead eyes of a shark.

Obviously you shouldn’t judge a politician based on how much they sound like Kermit the Frog, but what is the public to judge him on? They can’t even go off the fact that he’s not a Tory, because he keeps on insisting he is one:

The issue for Labour isn’t that Johnson will rally millions of supporters; it’s that Johnson will secure the Tory faithful, and that the voters Labour need just won’t turn out.

This is a real worry, as Labour’s recent by-election successes haven’t been because far more people voted for them, but because far fewer voted Tory. Take it’s recent victory in Wellingborough, for example. Labour’s vote share did go up:

But the actual number of people voting Labour barely changed (and was significantly down on 2017):

This was in a by-election, certainly, but a by-election in which people clearly wanted to punish the government. The risk for Labour is that while many voters decide they can no-longer vote Tory, they simultaneously don’t vote Labour.

Throw in the wildcard that is Boris Johnson, and this election could end very differently than current polling predicts.

So can Johnson win?

Let’s not kid ourselves, the Tories are likely going to lose the next election. Even Nadine Dorries – Johnson’s biggest fan – can’t envision a world in which he flounces his way to victory. Labour is obviously much weaker than current polling suggests, however, and it’s been a long time since a British election panned out like polling suggested it would.

The following graph shows the spike that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour achieved in the 2017 election (with the Tories/Labour finishing 42%/40%).

This is the election Johnson would want to replicate, and the way it happened was Corbyn offered a bright future in contrast to Theresa May’s never-ending gloom.

Obviously we don’t want to see Johnson win on a bullshit promise of change, but one upshot of such a campaign could be that it forced Starmer’s Labour to offer something other than re-heated austerity with a side dish of blaming the poor:

Johnson might not be the man leading the Tories in the next election, but at this point he seems a far more credible candidate than Rishi ‘oops-I-killed-the-party’ Sunak.

Featured image via Flickr – Number 10

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