Is the Return of Boris Johnson the Answer?

15th March 2023


Here is some free advice to Conservatives who want to bring back Boris Johnson: don’t.


Deltapoll has compared his reputation with those of his party, Rishi Sunak, Keir Starmer and the Labour Party. The results are clear. His ratings are worse than those of Sunak; he is as unpopular as his party – which means extremely unpopular.


Deltapoll tested three of the qualities that tend to influence the outcomes of general elections: competence, trustworthiness and whether voters feel that leaders and their parties are “on my side”. Here are the results, ranked from the most positive to most negative scores:



In each case, Starmer and his party are in positive territory; their figures are similar. The similarity is as important as the fact that favourable responses outnumber unfavourable responses. As far as the general public is concerned, Starmer and Labour are one and the same. If their figures diverged, it would be a sign of trouble – if, for example, the leader were seen as weak, or a decent leader held back by a badly damaged party “brand”.


No such divergence troubles Labour – but it does affect the Conservatives, and in a way that should warn them off wanting Johnson back. For what Deltapoll’s figures show is that Johnson’s personal reputation is similar to his party’s – but, on competence and trustworthiness, far worse than Sunak’s. (On the remaining quality, being “on my side”, Sunak’s advantage over his party and Johnson is small. This may reflect the views of some voters towards the Prime Minister’s wealth and, possibly, the stories last year about his wife’s tax arrangements.)


The larger point is that the party’s reputation is awful. It’s net scores are minus 27 on competence, minus 37 on trust and minus 35 on being “on my side”. No party can win an election without a marked improvement in those ratings. As a first goal, it needs to match Sunak on competence and trust. Its net ratings would still be negative, but far less disastrous. In other words, the Tories’ immediate challenge is to win over those voters that respect the Prime Minister but not his party. It is not immediately obvious that this can be done if Sunak is replaced by someone who voters dislike as much as the Conservatives as a whole.


Further evidence of the hole the Tories are in comes from answers to another battery of questions :



Overall, a Labour government would bring greater contentment than a Conservative government, and a majority government is preferred to a coalition. But within those totals are some intriguing individual figures. “Disgusted” is the most common reaction to a Tory majority (few people feel this about a Labour majority)  – but “unease” dominates feelings towards either a Conservative or Labour-led coalition. The most common positive response to each outcome is hope, with happiness a close second for a Labour government, as long as it has a majority.


It should be said that when respondents are asked how they would vote if Johnson did replace Sunak as Prime Minister, the figures are virtually identical. Neither man can claim an advantage over the other on this point. If the Tories were, say ten points ahead of Labour, then changing leader might make sense. But a sixteen-point deficit (and Deltapoll is, as usual, at the lower end of polls’ reports of Labour leads) argues that the notion of bringing Johnson back lacks clear evidence of electoral benefit. Indeed, it is more likely to make things worse.


Deltapoll interviewed 1,063 British adults online between 2nd – 6th March 2023. The data has been weighted to be representative of the British adult population as a whole. View the full results here.


Peter KellnerAuthor: Peter Kellner