Public confidence in government plummets after Johnson’s easing of coronavirus lockdown

Net approval of Westminster negative for first time since outbreak began, Opinium finds

Andy Gregory
Saturday 16 May 2020 22:21 BST
Coronavirus: UK death toll rises by 384 to 33,998

Confidence in the government’s ability to manage the coronavirus crisis has plummeted since Boris Johnson moved to ease lockdown restrictions, new polling suggests.

For the first time during the crisis, more people in the UK now disapprove than approve of Westminster’s handling of the pandemic, according to Opinium research.

The survey of 2,005 adults carried out this week found approval ratings had dropped to 39 per cent from 48 per cent a week earlier, down from a high of 65 per cent after lockdown was introduced. Disapproval also rose by six points to 42 per cent.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s net approval ratings also overtook Mr Johnson’s, with 35 per cent of the public backing his party’s opposition to the government, 20 per cent disapproving, and a third remaining neutral.

It came in a week when Sir Keir lambasted the prime minister over deaths in care homes, which account for 40 per cent of the nearly 35,000 fatalities recognised in the official UK toll – which is topped globally only by the US.

“In part this [drop in approval] was likely inevitable as the relatively simple and almost unanimous decision to lockdown has given way to much more contestable decisions about how and when to open up,” said Opinium’s head of political polling, Adam Drummond.

“We have gone from a very simple and clearly understood message to a more nuanced situation with more confused messaging and a sense that the government don’t have as firm a grip on the situation as voters would like.”

The pollsters found that the majority of English adults felt the government’s new slogan of “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives” is unclear.

Less than a third were able to correctly identify where the UK currently sits on the new Covid Alert System scale – which ministers tout as a key part of the plan to ease lockdown restrictions.

Despite the apparent confusion, the majority of English adults could correctly identify the updated advice given by Mr Johnson on Sunday, with 76 per cent correctly identifying the advice on exercising, 69 per cent on meeting others, and 51 per cent on going into work.

Other findings indicated that only a minority have faith in Mr Johnson’s insistence the public use its “good British common sense” over lockdown rules, with nearly nine in 10 respondents trusting in their own judgement, but only 34 per cent trusting that of their fellow Britons.

In a bid to boost the ailing economy amid a looming recession, the prime minister also urged those who cannot work from home to return to work – sparking fury from unions amid concerns over the apparently disproportionate threat to lower income workers, childcare issues and public transport.

Opinium’s research suggested that a third of those asked to return to work did not feel assured their workplace is Covid-secure this week, and nearly a third felt their journey to work would not be safe either.

Giving an indication to the levels of concern felt by the public about a return to business-as-usual, the pollsters found only one in seven respondents would feel comfortable travelling by train or bus.

More than a quarter of those polled would not feel comfortable using any of the listed forms of public transport again until a vaccine is available, including trains, buses, metro systems or planes.

The government has been approached for comment.

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