3 reasons the next few days are so dangerous for Boris Johnson

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·Political Correspondent, Yahoo News UK
·5-min read
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boris johnson
Boris Johnson is facing a challenging week ahead. (PA)

Boris Johnson has been on the back foot in recent months, with his premiership - and popularity - taking a hit at the hands of a worsening cost-of-living crisis and questions surrounding his own integrity.

Two weeks ago, he narrowly survived a confidence vote in which Tory MPs made clear their leader was on a final warning.

Read more: Johnson branded ‘manifestly corrupt’ for trying to secure wife Carrie top job

As he tries to re-assert his authority and win over his critics, Johnson now faces a critical few days that, if they go wrong, could see him toppled by his own party.

These are three key issues Johnson is facing:

Rail strikes

A person at Euston station in London, as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union begin their nationwide strike along with London Underground workers in a bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions. Picture date: Tuesday June 21, 2022.
Boris Johnson branded the strikes as "wrong and unnecessary" on Tuesday. (PA)

Commuters are being met with shuttered entrances and empty stations this week amid the mass walkout of rail workers.

Boris Johnson's strategy on travel chaos so far has been to point the finger elsewhere. The PM has told travellers to "stay the course", while attempting to lay blame at the door of Labour and "union barons".

"We need the union barons to sit down with Network Rail and the train companies and get on with it," he has said, adding the strikes were "wrong and unnecessary” and were causing "significant disruption and inconvenience up and down the country".

Telling fed-up rail users to just put up with it while washing his hands of responsibility is a risky strategy.

A full week of striking will see the public's patience stretched to the limit and leave them wondering why more is not being done by those in power to alleviate the pain. Blaming Labour for the inconvenience after 12 years in power is a flimsy approach.

What's more, the anti-strike rhetoric is also out of step with public opinion. A Savanta ComRes poll released on Tuesday revealed the majority – 58% – of voters believe this week's rail strike is justified.

At worst, Johnson's provocative stance actually risks inflaming the issue - and turning greater ire against himself.

The RMT are now threatening more strikes if demands are not met, and other public sector workers – including GPs, barristers, and teachers – are considering industrial action themselves.

Experts have warned the situation risks descending into a summer of chaos with 1970s style mass shutdowns – hardly a vote-winning strategy.

Inflation

EMBARGOED TO 0001 WEDNESDAY JUNE 1 File photo dated 13/01/03 of shoppers in a Morrison's Supermarket in Winsford, Cheshire. Shop prices grew at the fastest rate in more than a decade in May on the back of rapidly accelerating food inflation, according to new figures. Issue date: Wednesday June 1, 2022.
The Office for National Statistics on Wednesday reported inflation has hit 9.1% (PA)

The economy has become an achilles heel for Johnson and data released on Wednesday shows inflation has hit 9.1%, the highest level in decades.

The soaring cost of living – which is expected to continue to worsen in the coming months – is easily the biggest policy issue facing Johnson's government at the moment.

According to polling by Ipsos Mori, inflation is currently the most important issue to voters.

Some 40% of people now say it is one of the biggest concerns for Britain, the highest level for around 40 years. The wider economy is the second-biggest concern, mentioned by three in ten.

The PM's handling of the issue has not been well received.

Some 76% of Brits believe the government is doing badly on managing inflation, and 72% of Brits believe the government is handling the wider economy badly.

Alarmingly for a Conservative prime minister, YouGov polling shows the public's trust in the government's management of the economy – usually an issue where the Tories have a strong lead over Labour – is steadily dwindling.

According to the most recent data, as many people say that a Labour government led by Keir Starmer would be better at managing the economy as do a Conservative government led by Boris Johnson (26% in both cases).

Read more: Tory donor pays £120,000 to have dinner with Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron

By-elections

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey (centre left) with candidate Richard Foord (right) during Tiverton and Honiton by-election campaign launch in Honiton High Street. Picture date: Friday May 20, 2022.
The Conservatives are neck and neck with the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton and Honiton, traditionally a Tory safe seat. (PA)

As the spectre of Partygate continues to haunt him, it is the by-elections on Thursday that the prime minister is likely to lose the most sleep about this week.

Tiverton and Honiton, a safe Tory seat, is tipped as being at high risk of switching to the Liberal Democrats.

And Wakefield, a traditionally Labour seat that Johnson bagged at the last election, is widely predicted to swing back, with the latest polling putting Labour as many as 20 points ahead.

While every election – by-elections included – are fought on a number of issues, there is no doubt that the result will be viewed as the public having their say on Johnson the man.

This could spell serious trouble: a recent YouGov poll found 69% of Brits think Johnson is doing a badly as prime minister - the highest since he took office.

Johnson will be aware that the Conservative party is known for turning on its leaders when they think they aren’t election winners - both Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher fell foul of this.

For many wavering Conservative backbenchers, losing a safe blue seat and a Red Wall constituency within 24 hours could be the thing to tip them over the edge.

Add these to the 148 Tory MPs who voted to oust Johnson in the no-confidence vote, and you could have a full-scale rebellion bent on bringing down the party leader.

While a small reprieve for the prime minister may lie in the next possible date for vote of no confidence being a year away, disaffected Tory MPs have warned rules could be changed in the right circumstances.

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