The five most popular political figures in the UK
Only one other MP tops Boris Johnson in the quarterly YouGov rankings
Boris Johnson has weathered many storms since his landslide victory in the 2019 general election, but even the combined forces of Brexit and the Covid pandemic have failed to dampen voters’ enthusiasm about him.
According to YouGov’s newly published accumulated rankings for the past three months, the prime minister is the second-most popular political figure in the UK, based on the percentage of people surveyed who have a positive opinion of each contender.
But the Tory leader was beaten to the top spot by one of his own ministers - Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Rishi Sunak (42%)
Sunak “has thrived in the pandemic”, wrote Katy Balls in an article for The Guardian earlier this year. “As well as splashing the billions, he was praised for how Treasury schemes stood up under strain, his media performance and his slick online presentation.” But having topped a series of popularity ratings, the chancellor now finds himself in the “exposed position of ‘prime minister in waiting’”, says George Parker in the Financial Times. And while Sunak has “risen so swiftly in politics that he has not had time to make enemies”, all that “will change as jockeying begins for the eventual Johnson succession”, Parker predicts.
Boris Johnson (34%)
The PM may be outranked by his chancellor in the YouGov list, but Johnson still has a healthy popularity rating - and importantly for the Tories, is 11 percentage points ahead of opposition leader Keir Starmer, in 15th place. The Independent’s Andrew Grice argues that “the volatile politics of the Brexit era” has served Johnson well, while the coronavirus “vaccine roll-out, the furlough scheme and the British instinct to rally round the government in a national emergency all insulate him from the criticism he would face in normal times”. All the same, Grice writes, while “Johnson is lucky that many voters still give him the benefit of the doubt”, this generous attitude “is largely because of Covid”. And as such, “it won’t last”.
Ed Balls (30%)
Despite losing his seat six years ago, Ed Balls is still the third-most popular UK politician, and the favourite Labour contender, after becoming something of a television star. “It has been a bizarre trajectory from Whitehall to reality show stalwart,” says Julia Llewellyn Smith, who interviewed the former shadow chancellor for The Times in January. Balls made his debut on Strictly Come Dancing in 2016 and this year won the BBC’s Celebrity Best Home Cook. Llewellyn Smith wrote that “he’s resigned to the fact that posterity will recall not his economic brilliance but his Strictly Gangnam Style salsa, recently voted the fourth-greatest dance in the show’s history”. Confirming that assertion, Balls told her: “If that’s what I’m remembered for then that’s OK. I’ve made people smile.”
Nicola Sturgeon (29%)
The Scottish first minister is the fourth-most popular political figure among all adults surveyed, but tops the list for millennials, with a 40% approval rating among those born between 1982 and 1999. Sturgeon celebrated her party’s fourth consecutive victory in the Scottish Parliament election in May, despite a major fallout with her predecessor Alex Salmond. Five months earlier, The Herald’s Iain Macwhirter had predicted that while Scotland had made similar mistakes to Westminster in its Covid response, Sturgeon’s presentation style would help her retain voters’ support. “There is just no comparison between Ms Sturgeon’s informed, dignified and above all coherent presentation of the Scottish government’s pandemic response and the bumbling, confused meanderings of Boris Johnson,” Macwhirter wrote.
Matt Hancock (29%)
The disgraced MP is a surprising inclusion in the top five, but YouGov explains that the data for the ratings is collected “each and every day” to get an average for each yearly quarter - so Hancock’s resignation as health secretary in the final days of June is unlikely to have had much impact on his overall ranking. Holding the brief “at a time when health is the UK’s biggest preoccupation in a century” brought him to the “front and centre of the UK conversation”, says Tatler. But “few will have missed the calamitous events” that began on 25 June when The Sun published leaked footage of the married minister kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo, the magazine continues. “He is expected to lay low on the backbenches for the next few months as he sorts out his private life. So who knows when he will make a return to the political merry-go-round.”
And the others?
Home Secretary Priti Patel is in sixth place with 28%, just above former prime ministers John Major and Gordon Brown, who both get an approval rating of 27%. Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, former Commons speaker John Bercow and London Mayor Sadiq Khan follow on 26%.