He has lost control of the narrative, buffeted by scandals of his own making, and his personal poll ratings have plummeted to their worst on record, with just 24 percent of the public favorable toward Johnson, and 51 percent unfavorable. For Johnson, such a precipitous fall in popularity is particularly dangerous because, like Wilson, “his selling-point among colleagues had always been his mass appeal,” as Pimlott notes. Johnson wasn’t necessarily the most popular candidate among Conservative MPs when he became leader in 2019, but he was their last, best chance to stop the hemorrhaging of support to the new Brexit Party created by Nigel Farage, the populist ally of Donald Trump. This new party had surged in the polls amid the public’s frustration at the impasse in Parliament and was threatening the Tories’ grip on power. Theresa May’s failure had left the Conservatives facing defeat in the next election to a Labour government committed to holding a second referendum on Brexit, which could undo the first. Johnson was the tool they needed to destroy the Brexit Party and retain power.
Johnson’s extraordinary success in doing so made him the most powerful prime minister since Tony Blair. But if Johnson was a tool used by the Conservative Party to do a particular job, what happens when that job is complete—and the tool shows signs of not being versatile enough for the new tasks at hand?