BORIS Johnson is “fighting a losing battle” in his bid to recover from the partygate scandal, according to one of the country’s top pollsters.
Professor John Curtice claims the public opinion against the Prime Minister is now “very difficult to reverse” – despite recent efforts made to shake-up Number 10.
The University of Strathclyde expert told The Independent that a large proportion of Conservative voters “don’t believe what he is saying” – suggesting that up to 41% of those who backed Tory at the last election think he should resign.
Prof Curtice said: “When two-fifths of the people who voted for him in 2019 think he should go – that’s pretty striking, substantial stuff.
“A high proportion of Tory voters believe he broke the rules and they don’t believe what he is saying – this is a real problem for him.
“The question becomes, what will they believe him on in future?”
The expert added: “Political parties can recover from electoral trouble. But leaders rarely recover, once a leader becomes very unpopular. It’s very difficult to reverse.
“So far, Boris Johnson is fighting a losing battle in persuading people that he did not break the rules … The art of rhetoric, at which he is brilliant, may not be sufficient to enable him to restore his reputation.”
The comments come as Mr Johnson heads into a new week hoping changes to his top Downing Street team will ease the concerns of backbenchers who were wavering about his future.
The Prime Minister made key changes over the weekend, appointing Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay as his new chief of staff and journalist and long-time ally Guto Harri as his head of communications.
The Times reported No 10 was hoping to announce the return of Dame Emily Lawson as the new permanent secretary this week.
Dame Emily, who currently runs NHS England’s vaccination programme, was seconded to Downing Street’s delivery unit – a team in charge of ensuring the Government delivers on its policies – in April last year before returning to the health service in October.
But the changes come after a swathe of resignations from among the Prime Minister’s aides.
The beleaguered leader was left wounded by the partygate saga – with the police investigation still hanging over his head – and his refusal to apologise for a slur made against Sir Keir Starmer over the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile.
Some 15 Tory MPs have publicly called for Mr Johnson to resign but not all have sent letters of no confidence to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady. Privately, the numbers are expected to be higher.
If 54 letters are reached, a no confidence vote would be triggered.
Prof Curtice told the paper that Mr Johnson’s public appeal had been damaged not only by the lockdown-breaking allegations, but also how the Prime Minister tried to explain such “work events”.
He pointed towards the the latest Opinium poll showing that 75% of 2019 Tory voters think Mr Johnson broke his own Covid rules – and 61% do not believe he is telling the truth about parties.
He added: “We know from the Barnard Castle episode that people regard rule-breakers during a public health crisis with a great deal of moral approbation.
“The phrase ‘work event’ has entered the lexicon in the same way Barnard Castle did.”