Former Conservative adman on why Boris Johnson is holed below the waterline
London Advertising chief exec Michael Mosyinski has proudly worked on Conservative campaigns and backed Boris Johnson into number 10. But after the fallout from Partygate and Savile smears, he has come to the conclusion that the task of saving the prime minister is a brief too far.
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The English language is bursting with words which owe their origins to our nautical history. Many of the comments in the media regarding each new revelation about 10 Downing Street are full to gunwales with them. I woke up this morning to hear a minister talking about the departure of Boris’s head of policy (off the record, natch) in the terms: "It's not just the rats leaving the sinking ship – it's the petty officer".
So, I hope you will forgive me for borrowing another naval metaphor in the headline to this article, as it really seems to sum up the prime minister’s situation.
In fact, as a long-standing Conservative Party supporter and advisor who helped Boris win the leadership, I took the decision to break cover two weeks ago and wrote an article in the Spectator calling for the party’s MPs to evict him from Downing Street now.
Apart from my concern about how the leader of our government had demeaned his office, I had a feeling that he had lost his election-winning ways. So, to confirm this, I commissioned my own poll from Yonder to see what the impact of Partygate was on the public. The results exceeded my worst fears: 83% believed he had broken the rules; 67% that he had lied about it and 59% did not think he should be prime minister – including over half of those who had voted Conservative in 2019.
When it comes to voting intention, if there was an election tomorrow, the poll showed a 16% Labour lead with the Conservatives losing 196 seats – a decimation equivalent to 1997.
I sent the results to the party chairman saying that this level of loss of trust in Boris cannot be recovered and that for the sake of the party and the country he needed to go as there would be more to come out. I could not imagine quite the amount that did come out, with no doubt more to follow.
I also called a friend who is extremely senior in the party and a well-known Boris supporter, to apologize that I would have to go public with my point of view. I was blown away when he told me he agreed that Boris had to leave.
What we are sadly witnessing is a slow-motion car crash. When Boris made the Jimmy Savile attack on Kier Starmer, many Conservative MPs who were on the fence were genuinely shocked. Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s highly respected former chief of staff, said that there had been a question in the party as to whether Boris was getting the right advice from his advisors or was choosing to ignore it. He said the fact that Munira Mirza (Boris’s head of policy and loyal lieutenant) resigned confirmed it was the latter as Munira had told Boris not to use that soundbite, but he went on to do so.
The current state of affairs with new resignations fighting to keep pace with the number of MPs announcing they have submitted their letters of no confidence is reminiscent of 2006, when the constant stream of Labour ministerial resignations forced Tony Blair to announce he would hand over to Gordon Brown.
I hear that the number of letters is close to the 54 required to trigger a vote of no confidence, even if only 9 MPs have gone public about it. I believe that number will be reached this week.
I also believe it will be difficult for Boris to win it once it has been called, given the anger of the public which every MP is feeling acutely in their constituencies. The final coup de grace will be if the Met issue him with a fine, in which case he will have to resign.
There is still a significant cabal of Boris loyalists rallying around him and avidly making the case that the problem in getting rid of him is that ‘there is no natural successor’. The Yonder poll shows the electorate do not agree because with Rishi Sunak as leader, Labour’s lead shrinks by 12 percentage points. (With Liz Truss, Labour’s lead is worse than with Boris.)
The irony is that the idea of commissioning a poll to evaluate the impact on the party’s electoral fortunes was one I had used to help get Boris elected in the first place. Back in May 2019, I went to see Tim Bell to discuss who we should back to take over the reins from Theresa May. While it was clear that Boris would win the membership vote, he first had to be selected by the MPs to get on the final ballot. Just as he does now, Boris was out of favor with many Tory MPs. Tim favored Dominic Raab.
I persuaded Tim to commission YouGov to do a poll of the five most likely leadership candidates. Sure enough, it demonstrated that voting intentions for the Conservatives would receive a 10 percentage point 'Boris bounce'. Tim wrote to every Conservative MP that Boris was the only candidate who could defeat Jeremy Corbyn. Boris went on to win the MP vote, the membership vote, the 2019 election with a 80 seat majority and got Brexit done. 30 months later the weather has changed.
The other nautical anecdote I heard on the Today programme was an account of Earnest Shackleton of the moment his ship, Endurance, was finally crushed by the ice pack and "descended into the depths, with the stern which had been the cause of so many of our problems, being last to slip under".
It seems to sum up what is happening to Boris’s premiership as I write.