Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appears to be “pulling up” the Tories’ poll ratings while Boris Johnson remains a “serious negative” for most voters, according to one elections expert.
Lord Hayward, a Conservative peer, said the party was not “out of the woods” but there were signs of progress ahead of crucial council elections in England next month.
In a pre-election presentation for journalists, he said that while voters had not forgotten the “partygate” scandal, it was having a “diminishing” impact on perceptions of the Conservatives.
His analysis comes ahead of the former prime minister’s keenly awaited appearance on Wednesday before the Commons Privileges Committee, which is investigating whether he misled Parliament over No 10 parties during lockdown.
However Lord Hayward suggested that would not go down well with voters.
“He is a serious negative for most people,” he said. “People have moved away from Boris in numbers. Boris’s polling is far worse than is the case for Rishi.”
In contrast, Lord Hayward said that recent council by-election results suggested something of an upturn in the Tories’ fortunes under Mr Sunak.
While he said he still expected the Conservatives would lose seats in May, he would not expect the losses to be as great as if the elections had been held a few weeks ago.
“He (Mr Sunak) may be pulling the Tory party up. What seems to be happening is, the longer he is in as Prime Minister the less of an impact Boris/partygate is having,” he said.
“The population have not parked partygate. They still view it as a Tory party matter but they are viewing it as a Boris matter,” Lord Hayward said.
“Rishi gets a much, much higher rating as competent than Boris. He gets a much higher rating as trustworthy than Boris so there is some cut-through
“I think the impact is diminishing of Boris in terms of the Conservative brand. It is still there but it is diminishing.”