On Friday, I wrote that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was still standing; rumours of his political demise were premature.

On Thursday, February 10, The Spectator‘s Fraser Nelson, who also writes for The Telegraph, wrote an article for the latter: ‘Whisper it, but I’m beginning to see how Boris just might survive this’.

That same day, two polling companies were conducting their polls for the weekend. Both YouGov and Opinium show that Boris’s Conservatives at 34% are closing the gap with Labour on 37%:

Opinium have revised their methodology, re-evaluating how ‘don’t know’ results are tabulated. Without that, Labour would have been ten points ahead.

Guido Fawkes explains (emphases in the original, purple one mine):

On Saturday Opinium – the most accurate 2019 pollster – also found this same lead with identical 37% and 34% poll ratings respectively. Opinium’s poll also came with a methodology change that claims most polls giving Labour a very large lead is because of Tory voters switching to ‘don’t know’ rather than Labour. The new methodology weights the Tory ‘don’t knows’ differently, giving a more accurate picture of voting intention.

Without the methodology shift, Opinium says their latest poll would have shown a ten-point Labour lead…

Returning to Fraser Nelson’s article, it details how Boris is returning to being the candidate of 2019. While we elect MPs rather than Prime Ministers, the Conservatives’ majority of 80 at the time showed that Boris was the winning factor.

Nelson says that, with the pandemic in decline, Boris is reversing big-state policies that were alienating voters, especially those who had voted Conservative for the first time in 2019 (emphases mine):

The Prime Minister we see before us now is a very different creature to the one who governed by diktat for the best part of two years. He’s humbly asking Tory MPs what to do, then doing it. It’s humiliating, but it’s greatly improving the quality of the Government. He has broken free from Sage (whose advice on omicron turned out to be bunkum) and didn’t seek its advice before deciding to abolish all remaining Covid restrictions a month early. Warming to his theme, he’s now referring to this as “freedom day”.

Some of his worst ideas are being abandoned. His plans to set up an all-powerful Animal Sentience Committee to judge government policy now look doomed. His anti-obesity strategy – whereby a Conservative government would tell shops what sort of food they could and could not promote – is being shelved.

“That was his personal idea,” says one minister, “so to see it abandoned showed how his personal power has vanished. But it helps him. People resent him less.”

As Parliament is in recess as I write, Boris has no immediate rivals for his leadership:

the rebellion is losing steam. Parliament is breaking up for half-term with no immediate threat to his leadership. He has been lucky in his enemies: when Christian Wakeford defected to Labour he revived the Tories’ sense of tribal loyalty. Being attacked by Sir John Major, who has never recovered from the Brexit referendum result, will also have helped him. An attempt to change the rules of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers – to make it easier to depose him – has also failed.

We can only hope the ‘old’ Boris returns and that this isn’t a temporary move out of panic:

This holds out the prospect – no more than that – of the big-state, bossy Boris giving way to the buccaneering, risk-taking and freedom-loving leader they thought they were getting when they first elected him. So far, it seems he’s prepared to do anything to survive. Even reform the NHS …

The Downing Street parties are still an issue. At the weekend, Boris received a questionnaire from the Metropolitan Police which he must complete within seven days:

The current obsession with the Met’s investigation into Partygate might, paradoxically, help the Prime Minister. If he is not fined, he can claim vindication – and move, straightaway, to focus on his great Covid reopening. If he keeps moving while his enemies are still, there’s every chance of his regaining momentum.

Still, if Boris can keep meeting the next departure deadline, he just might survive:

With an approval rating almost as low as John Major’s, the chances of a full Johnsonian recovery look slim. But as one of his loyalists puts it: “The aim is to make it to Valentine’s Day, then May Day, then summer. So far, so good.”

On Saturday, February 12, Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Boris’s new Chief of Staff, wrote an article for The Telegraph: ‘We in No 10 know that cutting back the size of the state must be a priority’.

Barclay says, that, post-Covid:

it is a priority to restore a smaller state – both financially and in taking a step back from people’s lives. It’s time to return to a more enabling approach. To trust the people, return power to communities, and free up business to deliver.

I know how frustrating the recent weeks of speculation about the workings of government have been – for the people of this country, and for political colleagues. But the Prime Minister has apologised for the things we simply did not get right, and for the way that some matters have been handled. And knowing the Prime Minister as I do, he is the best person to deliver the mission of renewal and recovery.

He outlined what will be happening in the coming weeks:

After this week’s Parliamentary recess, the Prime Minister will be bringing forward a plan for everyone to live with Covid. Last Friday’s move to relax travel restrictions further will encourage both business and leisure bookings and help kickstart the aviation sector. And in a fortnight – provided the data continues its encouraging trend – all Covid regulations in England are due to be abolished. That the Prime Minister can consider bringing this forward is thanks in part to the hard work of the British people, which has also contributed to our economic recovery.

We know that families are facing a rise in the cost of living, which is why the Prime Minister and Chancellor brought forward a support package earlier this month to help households with energy bills. The Prime Minister is raring to get the economy fully firing and determined to build more efficient and more responsive public services. He is the leader to capitalise on the benefits of Brexit – changing our laws to better reflect Britain’s needs. And, through the levelling up white paper, he aims to balance the UK more fairly. These are the core values of the Conservative Party.

The week ahead will see the Prime Minister getting out of Westminster and visiting Scotland, the North East, and other parts of the UK to focus on the people’s priorities and see how we are improving their communities. He’ll be championing important domestic policies – like the apprenticeships that spread opportunity to people who earn as they learn and gain experience on the job. And he will carry on working with our allies to maintain peace in Europe, as he did last week in Brussels with our Nato partners, and in Poland with our armed forces.

Boris spent the morning of Valentine’s Day in Scotland alone — with no Conservative support from north of the border.

The lockdown parties at No 10 have strained his relationship with the Scottish Conservatives, especially their leader Douglas Ross, who is both an MP at Westminster and an MSP at Holyrood.

Ross, the Scottish Parliament’s leader of the opposition, was so put off by the party controversy that he initially did not invite Boris to the Scottish Conservatives’ annual conference.

In the end, however, Ross relented and Boris will be appearing via video link.

On Monday, The Times reported further:

The prime minister also sent Ross a handwritten birthday card, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Conservatives at Holyrood are nervous about Boris:

Some MSPs are uncomfortable with Johnson’s appearance and worry about the impact of the present situation if he survives in office.

Yet, Downing Street has reason to believe Scottish Conservative voters are more open to Boris:

figures in No 10 believe Johnson is not as offputting to voters as his plunging poll ratings north of the border suggest.

“I think [Johnson’s critics in the Scottish Conservatives] sort of have this view that the prime minister is a bit like Mrs Thatcher in the Eighties, [that] she was so toxic in Scotland but actually it was only under John Major that the party went into really serious reversal in Scotland,” a Johnson ally said.

“With Boris’s so-called toxicity in Scotland, we didn’t do so badly at the last election in Scotland, relative to historic performances.”

In 2019 the Scottish Tories lost seven seats but retained six [in Westminster], having had only one seat between 1997 and 2017.

The article says that Scottish Conservatives insist there is no personal animosity on the part of Douglas Ross and point out that he supported Boris in the 2019 leadership contest, which preceded the general election that year.

Boris’s civil servants in Whitehall will be working more closely with Scotland’s SNP government, especially in a bid to avoid another independence referendum:

Whitehall sources also intend to work more collaboratively with SNP ministers as part of efforts to take the heat out of disputes between the administrations.

Some senior figures believe that if both governments can agree to schemes that benefit Scotland economically it will help stave off public pressure for a second independence referendum. “We are hugging them close,” said a source.

Earlier on Monday, the Daily Mail reported on Boris’s half-day trip:

The Prime Minister visited Scotland to announce an agreement with the Scottish Government on a plan to create new green freeports.  

He visited Rosyth shipyard this morning and will later head to an oncology centre tackling coronavirus backlogs in the north west of England. 

The PM had been due to stay overnight in Cumbria but is now expected to return to Downing Street because of the Ukraine crisis …

The UK and Scottish governments have agreed there will be two ‘green freeports’ north of the border

Freeports – special economic zones offering tax breaks and lower tariffs for businesses – are being promoted by the UK Government as part of its ‘levelling up’ agenda …

Mr Johnson will have been bracing for a frosty welcome given the Tory civil war over the Partygate scandal. 

Mr Ross has said that Mr Johnson’s position is ‘no longer tenable’ and has called for him to resign

The Scottish Tory leader is understood to have sent a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs.     

The comments from Mr Ross prompted a slap down from Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg who described the Moray MP as a ‘lightweight’, fuelling rising tensions.

Six months from now we will look at Boris’s travails and they will seem trivial. Everything will be water under the bridge, including partygate.

There will be bigger issues in the months to come — and Boris, rightly or wrongly, will still be at the helm.