British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should be on the political ropes.
He is in open warfare with his embittered former right-hand man, Dominic Cummings. As a result of leaks, which may or may not have come from Cummings, Johnson has not brushed off revelations that his willingness to hand out his mobile number to all and sundry has been taken advantage of by all manner of people. He appears to be under the thumb of his woke, interfering toy-girl – er, fiancée – Carrie Symonds. The lobbying efforts of his predecessor David Cameron, and others, on behalf of failed Australian financier Lex Greensill are creating a foul odour over Downing Street. Victorian-strength Covid lockdown rules seemingly chop and change daily. Shall we go on?
With all these negatives, and more, hanging over him, Johnson should be toast, and his Conservatives, like John Major’s in the 1990s, dreading the next UK general election whenever it is held.
Yet they’re not. Despite everything, the Conservatives and Johnson have it all over their Labour opponents. In the three national opinion polls published in the last week, the Tories are 10-11 points ahead of Labour and would increase their already big majority if an election were held now. And Johnson’s personal approval is in the high fifties and strongly outstrips his disapproval, while his opponent Keir Starmer fails to land blows, despite the abundance of ammunition.
It’s easy to oversimplify an explanation, but Johnson is streets ahead for one thing and one thing only: Britain’s spectacular success in getting its people vaccinated against Covid-19.
As of last Friday, over 33 million Britons have received at least one jab. That’s more than half the population, in a matter of months. Covid incidence is down. Covid-related hospitalisations and deaths are way down. Lockdown restrictions are being eased. Overseas holiday plans are being made. There’s now talk that while Covid remains endemic, the pandemic is over.
For Johnson, everything else is being forgiven while he continues to deliver on Britain’s return to some sort of normality.
Scott Morrison should be looking at Boris and learning a political lesson. Yes, today’s Newspoll is encouraging for him and the Coalition. But they are still wrestling Anthony Albanese and Labor within the Newspoll margin of error. The Morrison government’s decisive and courageous Covid response in 2020 can’t be relied on to win the next election. And that’s not to mention other distractions like the Coalition’s woman problem, and the government’s ham-fisted handling thereof.
If anything is an existential threat to the Morrison government, it’s the kicking it will get if it can’t put the Covid vaccination rollout into UK-level gear. It doesn’t matter that Covid’s incidence is minuscule in Australia compared to comparable countries. Lockdown-fatigued voters want their return to normality and think the government’s rollout bumbling is threatening – or at least delaying – it. Opportunistic state premiers like Lockdown Lord Mark McGowan use it to deflect blame from their own omnishambles. And a mainly Left commentariat desperate to do Morrison in will ride it all the way to the polls if it’s not sorted quickly.
The signs are that Morrison, in moving to take more personal control over the rollout, realises his political danger. But Johnson’s logic-defying poll success should tell him that if he can get this particular show back on the road, the electoral rewards could be great.
If he doesn’t, Centrelink beckons.
Terry Barnes is a former adviser to Tony Abbott during his time as health minister. He edits our daily newsletter, the Morning Double Shot. You can sign up for your Morning Double Shot of news and comment here.
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