After a slew of scandals, will British voters stand by Johnson?

The PM has admitted to breaking lockdown rules, raising public anger, but some say they will still support him.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen sitting in the United Kingdom's Parliament.
Opinion polls indicate Johnson's Conservative Party has lost its lead over the main opposition Labour Party as his personal popularity plummets [UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters]

London, United Kingdom – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s grip on power is yet again being questioned over new reports of a rule-breaking drinks party in the Downing Street rose garden.

At the time of the May 20, 2020 social event, which had a reported 40 attendees, the United Kingdom recorded 363 deaths from COVID-19 as the government told the public, “you can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor public place.”

Johnson, the leader of the Conservative Party, admitted that he briefly joined the party at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday and acknowledged the public’s growing “rage” that COVID-19 measures were “not being properly followed by the people who make the rules”.

According to London-based pollster Savanta ComRes, more than two-thirds (66 percent) of voters think the prime minister should now resign, including 42 percent of those who voted for the Conservatives at the 2019 election. The poll shows a 12-point increase on a previous poll conducted by the organisation in December, when allegations emerged of a Christmas party held at Downing Street in 2020, when the UK was under strict COVID-19 rules.

Johnson’s popularity among the public has been falling since June. Following his confession on Wednesday, senior members of his government are calling for his resignation.

Al Jazeera spoke to people in the UK who voted for Johnson in 2019 about how they feel now, and whether they continue to support the prime minister and his Conservative Party.

‘He’s been found out as a charlatan’

Matthew, 28, a financial services employee in Lancashire:

“He was the right man at the right time – to sort out Brexit. I don’t think the electorate voted for Johnson for his upstanding character, but given what was confronting the country at the time, the constitutional crisis caused by parliamentary deadlock because of Brexit and the prospect of [former opposition Labour Party leader] Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, he was the only credible option.

But now that he’s had the chance to govern properly, outside of the pandemic umbrella which has shielded him to a huge extent, he’s been found out as a charlatan.

It’s time for a serious and competent pair of hands, and a more morally authoritative person to navigate us through what are going to be some difficult social, economic and geopolitical times ahead.”

‘He can recover from this scandal’

Sarah, a 40-year-old woman from London who works in marketing:

“The past year and a half has been very bad for everyone, whereas I am sure Number 10 Downing Street is a lovely bubble. There should not have been a party there, while everyone else had to stay inside. It is sad to see someone be in such a prominent public position and not expect some form of accountability.

“I think the garden party was a silly error of judgement, which of course doesn’t look great in newspapers and to the public. I feel that he can recover from this scandal and it will blow over. Hopefully, he has learned his lesson because he will have a fight in his hands otherwise. [Labour leader] Sir Keir Starmer’s popularity will inevitably increase.

“I am a swing voter depending on the mandate of the party. I haven’t decided how I’ll vote in the next election.”

‘I continue to support Boris’

Ben, 41, a green investment manager from Somerset:

“I am struggling to get worked up over whether or not Number 10 staffers, who spent all day every day together throughout the pandemic, gathered round the coffee machine or in the garden during that time.

Gordon, a British voter, poses for a photograph
Ben, 41, says he will continue to support Johnson despite the scandals which have engulfed his government [Courtesy: Ben]

“I continue to support Boris Johnson for three fundamental reasons: because he got Brexit done when most of the British establishment was hellbent on overturning the result of the 2016 referendum. Because he has applied greater ambition to domestic and international nature and climate policy than any prime minister we’ve ever had.”

‘I am satisfied with the work he has done’

Claret, a 48-year-old business manager in Scotland:

“I believe there has been a concentrated effort by other parties to discredit him and the Conservative Party for any reason they can find.

“I voted for Johnson in 2019. I am very satisfied with the work he has done and think he did a sterling job through the pandemic. He managed the vaccine and boosters rollout extremely well. He had to deal with getting COVID-19, losing his mother and treachery from his own party.

“But if there was another leadership challenge, I would have to think carefully about how I vote in the next election.”

‘I would prefer a change of leadership in the Conservative Party’

Gordon, 45, from London:

“Johnson has not met a lot of Conservative Party objectives and expectations of people who voted for a [Conservative] government.

Gordon, a British voter, poses for a photograph in London
Gordon, 45, says Johnson has failed to meet voters’ expectations [Madeline Roache/Al Jazeera]

“I am not particularly lockdown friendly – seeing the city dead like this is not pleasant. I did not think lockdown restrictions should have been in, in the first place. The garden party bothers me from the point of view that having gone down this very unsustainable, costly route, Johnson did not obey the rules.

“Would I vote for Johnson again? That’s tough. I would prefer a change of leadership in the Conservative Party. If there was a viable alternative, I would vote for them.”

‘He is out of touch with what people are feeling’

Rita, 62, from Essen:

“He’s gone a step too far. He is out of touch with reality and what people are feeling. And he doesn’t seem to think he did anything wrong – that’s the problem. But I would still vote for him and the Conservative Party, 100 percent. There is no one else from any party I think I could vote for to take his place. In other words, we’re very tired.”

Editor’s note: These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Source: Al Jazeera