We have hard evidence that Boris Johnson’s ratings among Conservative activists is high, and only hearsay that his standing among Tory MPs is lower – though we believe that last estimate is accurate. Neither take is likely to be moved much by news of his divorce and reports about his private life. What about the voters?
That private life has never been conventional and Johnson has never come over all Tartuffe about family values. The greater mass of voters would therefore have discounted it until recently. We suspect there has been a change in balance.
If so, it will have nothing much to do with private matters and everything to do with public ones. In 2012, when the London Olympics took place, and Johnson was probably at the height of his popularity. He had been elected as Mayor of London four years earlier, was re-elected in the same year, and seen by a big chunk of Londoners, and others, as a unifying figure.
Brexit changed all that. By not only coming out for it but in helping front for it, Johnson automatically became a divisive figure. This would doubtless have been true too had he backed Remain, but to a lesser extent, because he would have been tucked in behind David Cameron and George Osborne, that campaign’s effective leaders. And media attitudes to Johnson have changed, too.
So it is that he writes today for the Remain-friendly Mail on Sunday about Brexit, presumably to provide some distraction in its pages from its coverage of his private life. And so it is, too, that Alan Duncan and Alistair Burt attack the article for its use of a suicide bomber metaphor. Was its deployment a deliberate part of the distraction ploy?
Yes, Brexit really does touch on almost everything to do with British politics, public and private. To a greater extent than Johnson can have grasped at the time, the EU referendum campaign has altered the way in which voters and the media perceive him.
There is irony in that fact. One of the biggest pro-Brexit influences as he weighed his decision up was his wife, the determinedly Eurosceptic Marina Wheeler.