Conservative MPs in marginal seats will enter 2022 with an agonising dilemma. Do they stay loyal to Boris Johnson, who help them win two years ago – or depose him in order to keep their seats next time?
New research by the polling company Opinium shows that Johnson has lost his personal appeal, at least for the moment. Opinium’s normal voting intention question, reported in The Observer on Sunday, showed Labour, on 39%, seven points ahead of the Conservatives, 32%. But when Johnson’s name is added to the voting intention question, Tory support dips below 30%, and Labour’s lead increases from 7 to 12%.
It might be expected that simply reminding voters of the names of the two main party leaders would make little difference to voting intentions. The fact that it shifts the party lead by five points suggests that Johnson is now a significant drag on Tory fortunes. Perhaps some Conservative-inclined respondents intend to stay with the party if he goes before the next election – but not if he stays.
Opinium proceeded to ask people how they would vote under three further scenarios: if Sunak, Truss or Gove led the Tories. (Each scenario assumed that Keir Starmer remained Labour’s leader.) Sunak emerges as by far the most attractive successor. Labour stays ahead, but by just three points.