Tory backing for Boris Johnson’s coronavirus strategy plunges

Prime Minister’s handling of coronavirus crisis draws dwindling support ahead of party conference

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a remote press conference to update the nation on the covid-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on September 30, 2020, the 100th coronavirus briefing since the pandemic hit the UK. New restrictions are being introduced as infection rates rise again, with some 16 million people now subject to some kind of localised rules across the UK, including bans on meeting other families.
 / AFP / POOL / Jack Hill
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Confidence in Boris Johnson’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis among his party members has plunged to its lowest level since the March lockdown, according to a survey by a government-backing website.

As the ruling Conservative Party prepares to open its annual conference, the latest monthly survey of party members has indicated that just 28 per cent of those polled thought he was doing a good job of handling the crisis.

The figure has declined sharply since March when 92 per cent of members thought he was doing well, according to the survey conducted by the ConservativeHome news site.

A chart displaying Conservative Party members opinion on Boris Johnson's handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Conservative Home
A chart displaying Conservative Party members opinion on Boris Johnson's handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Conservative Home

But the UK is now in the grip of a second wave of cases in a country that already has the highest death toll in Europe of more than 42,200.

The setback follows months of bad publicity for the government over testing, the lack of protective gear for medical staff and Mr Johnson’s refusal to sack his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, for breaking lockdown restrictions.

“So Boris Johnson will enter the Conservative Party conference with support among party members for his Covid-19 policy having deteriorated sharply, if our survey is anything to go by,” ConservativeHome editor Paul Goodman wrote in a blog.

“This decline in confidence echoes that seen in polls of the public as a whole, though support for the government is obviously higher, and reflects the fall in the prime minister's own rating that our recent surveys have found.”

The meeting of the party faithful is going online this year because of the pandemic, depriving the leadership of the traditional gatherings designed to rally support among rank-and-file members amid problems over coronavirus, Brexit and its flagship immigration policy.

The conference comes less than a year after Mr Johnson won a landslide election on the back of a promise to get Brexit done after UK voters in a referendum supported plans to leave the European Union.

Mr Johnson will intervene in the Brexit negotiations for the first time since June when he holds talks on Saturday with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in an attempt to unlock a deal.

But the EU is pursuing legal action after Mr Johnson's government pushed legislation through the House of Commons to bypass the bloc on future trading arrangements within the UK, in breach of the two sides' divorce treaty.

The controversy has caused alarm among Conservative lawmakers who are worried about the damage to Britain's reputation as a defender of the rule of law.
The party conference has been known to feature negative comments about the EU and its relationship with the country, particularly during the Brexit negotiations.

For party members and the public at large, the EU spat has been completely overshadowed by the pandemic, as a surging caseload compounds fears of a winter crisis for Britain's overstretched health service.

“One speech, even a Boris tub-thumper, is never enough to turn things around if the facts on the ground say something different,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is the headline speaker on Saturday's opening day, as Britain gears up for a new life free of EU rules from January 1, with or without a trade deal.

Home Secretary Priti Patel gives Sunday's keynote speech, after days of media reports that she is looking to build far-flung detention centres for asylum seekers.