The prime minister has ended the year beset by a sea of troubles, and the opinion polls have turned against him. Labour has taken a significant lead in voting intentions; the voters say they would prefer Keir Starmer as prime minister; and the Conservatives have lost their advantage as the party trusted to handle the economy.
Worse, one poll suggests that Tory MPs would save their seats if they dumped Boris Johnson and installed Rishi Sunak as party leader, and a survey of Tory party members put Mr Johnson at the bottom of the cabinet league table of satisfaction ratings.
The explanation for the prime minister’s poor showing, according to Paul Goodman, editor of Conservative Home, which runs the survey of Tory members: “Parties, competence, Covid restrictions, Paterson, taxes and net zero, not necessarily in that order.” Possibly in a different order and with the exception of Covid restrictions and net zero, those are the main reasons for Mr Johnson’s unpopularity with the wider public.
What, then, does the new year hold? Will Mr Johnson bounce back, or will he sink further into the trough of the mid-term blues?
Join me on Wednesday for an “Ask Me Anything” online event to discuss the prime minister’s prospects. On the positive side, Mr Johnson seems to have negotiated the minefield of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas and the New Year.
He resisted pressure from the government’s scientific advisers (and from public opinion) to impose further measures to limit social mixing, by allowing the entire cabinet to own the decision in a long Zoom meeting before Christmas.
The evidence of hospitalisations since then suggests that this was a reasonable policy, and it may earn Mr Johnson some grudging credit both from the public and from Tory backbenchers, 101 of whom rebelled against the modest restrictions imposed before Christmas.
However, even if there is relief that the Omicron wave of the virus may not be as dangerous as feared, attention will immediately turn to the state of the NHS in dealing with the huge backlog of non-Covid cases. And beyond that to the host of problems crowding in on the government.
On 1 January new customs checks come in on goods travelling between the UK and the EU, with many observers warning that businesses are not ready.
At some point Sue Gray, the senior civil servant, will report on whether parties in Downing Street last year broke lockdown rules. The price of natural gas has gone through the roof and will eventually have to be borne by consumers.
The prime minister’s main defence is that the next election is still probably two and a half years away – but that is more likely to be two and a half years for more things to go wrong than for things to start going right.
If you have a question about what politics holds for the new year, submit it now, or when I join you live at 4pm on Wednesday 29 December for an “Ask Me Anything” event.
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