Boris Johnson hoped to mark his two year anniversary with a series of big domestic policy announcements as part of his plans for the post-Covid recovery. Instead, the Prime Minister had to spend it in self-isolation on a weekend in which a series of polls pointed to a dip in support for his government.
The most striking was a YouGov poll on Friday that suggested the Tory lead had fallen by six points to 38 per cent of the vote:
Since then, a series of other polls have emerged that also seem to point to a narrowing of the poll gap between the Tories and Labour, with Survation finding support for Labour rising slightly:
The latest poll comes from Redfield and Wilton – suggesting the Tories now hold a four-point lead over Labour:
So, what's going on? In recent months, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has tried a range of attacks on Johnson's government to little avail. From the row over the refurbishment of the No. 10 flat to cronyism on Covid contracts, Labour MPs have been disappointed that despite attracting column inches these lines have had limited impact when it comes to voting intention. In contrast, government ministers have repeatedly used their poll support to suggest that both the opposition and journalists were ignoring voter's priorities by focussing on such issues.
Inside government, the recent dip in support is being put down more to Covid than anything else. For months now, the Conservative party has benefitted from a vaccine bounce as a result of the successful vaccine rollout. There are signs that this has stalled of late. Rather than a moment of celebration, the lifting of nearly all restrictions earlier this month came with concerns over rising cases – with polls suggesting the public were worried about the pace of easing – as well as questions over the practical wisdom of the self-isolation rules, which will see millions 'pinged' ahead of a self-isolation exemption for the double jabbed next month.
The issue that those conducting focus groups believe could have tipped things in the wrong direction for the government is the Prime Minister's own attempt to avoid self-isolation. Downing Street was widely condemned when it sent out an official press release declaring that, despite coming into close contact with someone who had tested positive, both Johnson and the Chancellor would use a pilot scheme to skip self-isolation. Such was the backlash that within three hours, the decision had been reversed and the pair were in isolation. Yet the 'one rule for them' narrative still managed to cut through in that time.
It's why MPs and ministers were relatively downbeat last week. Ministers sent out to urge the public to self-isolate if pinged felt as though No. 10 had made that message harder to land. Meanwhile, Conservative backbenchers are frustrated at the Prime Minister's last-minute announcement of the introduction of vaccine passports from September.
Of course, the Tories are still in front and the Covid situation is seemingly improving, this ought to increase support for Johnson's decision to lift nearly all legal restrictions. Approval of the Prime Minister's handling of the pandemic will likely go up in support if cases continue to ease and there is no need to bring back restrictions. However, with difficult spending decisions looming in the autumn and questions growing over No. 10's grip on key issues, any narrowing of the poll lead only serves to increase Tory nerves.