Levelling Up: Boris Johnson can't take the Midlands for granted...writes Gareth Owen

Credit: ITV News / PA Images

Let’s start with the most important point; Boris Johnson has NOT lost - and is not about to lose - the Midlands or its valuable “red wall” seats.

While there are some eye-catching results from today’s survey in the region, the data matches up with my own experience talking to people in North Nottinghamshire, Stoke, Birmingham and the Black Country: that is to say, people who backed him in December are still broadly supportive.

It’s true that some are more enthusiastic than others.  It’s true that certain aspects of the Covid response have tested their patience.  But I don’t get a sense from the data, or from real-life conversations that Conservative voters from 2019 have given up on him in droves.  Yet.

For one thing, while the survey reflects a degree of cynicism and even opposition towards Boris Johnson, it did not ask questions about Labour.  It’s perfectly possible that people’s faith may be on the wane, but they are not quite ready to support the alternative.

And while those dissatisfied or not confident in the Prime Minister consistently outnumber those who are enthusiastically behind him, let’s not forget that many others are simply neutral, perhaps waiting before passing judgement on the Covid strategy or the “levelling up” agenda, wanting to give the Prime Minister a chance.


Boris Johnson's victory speech on Election Night 2019 Credit: PA Images

It’s also worth remembering that many Midlands people did not vote Conservative in December.  In the current partisan atmosphere they are likely still hostile, and would account for most of those negative responses.

However, there are warning signs for Boris Johnson in this survey; a reminder that he can not take the Midlands for granted.

He won more votes here than from any other English region in December.  Well over half of all Midlands voters put their faith in him, and yet on so many measures of his performance and their faith in him to deliver, he falls significantly short of that number in this survey.  Clearly a portion of those who supported him, are not convinced by his performance in power.

This serves as an illustration of just how the Coronavirus pandemic has brought an unceremonious end to Johnson’s honeymoon period.  

Nine months ago he won a landslide victory.  Seven months ago, he achieved what he was elected to do: “get Brexit done”.  Until five months ago, the shell-shocked Labour Party was in disarray.  In normal times, in these circumstances, he would expect to be scoring more highly on these “confidence” and “satisfaction” questions; he could expect to still be riding the wave of popularity (eight months after his landslide victory in 1997, Tony Blair had actually increased his poll lead over the Conservatives).

But Covid has changed everything, and it is on Covid that he will likely be judged when the Midlands goes back to the polls in a General Election - probably in three-and-a-half years' time.

Perhaps the most dangerous political finding could spring from the question on lockdown.  Less than a third of people in the Midlands believe Boris Johnson’s Government made the right call on ending lockdown.  Right now, with hospitalisations low and deaths almost at zero that doesn’t matter too much.  But if a second wave hits with ferocity, if at the end of all this the United Kingdom has one of the highest death rates, or one of the worst Covid recessions (and the early indicators don’t look good on this), people will remember, and the PM could be in trouble.

It remains true that no modern Prime Minister ever made it to Downing Street without first winning over a majority of people in the Midlands.  As things stand, Keir Starmer is still a long way from doing that for Labour in 2024.  But this survey has pointed out potential Conservative vulnerability.


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