During the pandemic, the one face that has been at the forefront of media attention has been the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. At the start of the year the Conservatives were in full control of the political landscape, having won over previous Labour heartlands and gained a large majority in the general election the previous December.
Since then though, the world has changed dramatically, with the Coronavirus sending Britain into unprecedented times, including a number of lockdowns. Over 57,000 people have now died from the virus in the UK, which raises the question as to whether or not the Prime Minister’s position is under threat because of his handling of the pandemic.
Dr Robin Pettitt, senior lecturer in comparative politics at Kingston University, believes the pandemic has made Johnson’s job far more difficult. “What it has done is completely derail his domestic agenda.” Pettitt said: “By January this year he had won a big election victory and had ‘delivered’ Brexit (at least in the sense that we had left the EU – the long term relationship still very much unresolved). He and his government could now focus on how they wanted to shape post-Brexit UK society. With the Pandemic that is now thoroughly out the window.”
Johnson has had to attempt to deliver a trade deal after Brexit whilst also trying to control the spread of the Coronavirus. Pettitt believes that it is his handling of Brexit that has made his position untenable.
“His falling polling numbers will mean his MP’s will want someone to turn that around. The fact that we have now left the EU makes him less useful to the hard-core Brexit supporting MPs and the coming fight over Scottish independence, means that I predict he will be out soon.”
Despite the current negativity towards Johnson and the government, Pettitt believes that the introduction of a Covid-19 vaccine could potentially be a step in the right direction.
“Good news will usually benefit the government. Being able to say that we have turned a corner in the fight against the pandemic under his leadership will help his standing. How much, remains to be seen,” Pettitt said.
As the last general election was just under a year ago, there isn’t scheduled to be another one until 2024. Despite this, political campaigns are developed over many years and what the government has and hasn’t achieved during this period will have an effect.
“The combined damage of Brexit and Covid-19 has severely weakened the Conservatives’ standing with the electorate. They do have a long time to turn it around, but once a negative view of a government amongst the voters has settled in, it can be difficult to change it,” said Pettitt.
“Having said that, the Labour Party has a mountain to climb, and they are doing their best to look divided so an outright majority for the Labour Party is a very tall order. However, I would not be at all surprised to see a hung Parliament, possibly with Labour as the largest party. Still, a lot can and will happen between now and the next election so it’s probably best not to make too many predictions.”