February 23, 2024

What legacy will Boris Johnson leave for UK women?

He’s finally gone. Or rather, at the time of writing, he’s sort of half-gone. After two years and 348 days – and a month less than Theresa May – Boris Johnson stood at the Downing Street lectern and, grudgingly, announced his resignation.

He hopes to stay on until the autumn while his successor is chosen, although whether he will be allowed to do so remains to be seen.

As with any outgoing Prime Minister, the post-mortem of Johnson’s tenure has immediately begun. And there’s a lot to get through with Johnson, who endured a scandal – usually of his own making – on a weekly basis. I am most interested in how Johnson’s time in government affected women; the impact (or lack of) his policies have had; the culture he has presided over both in parliament and, by extension, wider society. Are women in a better position now than they were when he bumbled and chuntered his way through that famous black door?

You’d be forgiven for not having high hopes when Johnson, long considered to have a «woman problem», with extensive empirical evidence to back that up, entered office. During his resignation speech, he wasn’t shy of reiterating that in 2019 the Conservatives secured their largest majority since 1987. But while Johnson obviously has his female admirers (Nadine Dorries and possibly your boyfriend’s mum come to mind), election polling consistently showed that he was less popular with women, particularly younger women. A contemporaneous YouGov survey showed a 10-point difference between men’s and women’s opinions, with 41% of men saying Johnson would make a good leader to 31% of women.

There are various reasons for this disparity, and they are a mix of Johnson’s political ideologies and beliefs and his personality and personal track record. For example, this is a man who, when running to become MP for Henley in the 2005 general election, promised that «voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts».

When the editor of The Spectator magazine, Johnson told a colleague that the way to deal with interventions by the magazine’s publisher (ie. his boss), Kimberly Quinn, was to «pat her on her bottom and send her on her way». There is his well-known history of affairs, and while it’s a fact of life that people have affairs, Johnson’s are notoriously grim. He was sacked in 2004 by Tory party leader Michael Howard for outright lying (shock! ) about an affair; there was the review into the taxpayer’s money spent on infamous mistress Jennifer Arcuri (the less said about that pole-dancing episode, the better); and his relationship with now-wife Carrie is said to have begun when then-wife Marina Wheeler was undergoing cancer treatment. Until recently, he wouldn’t even say for sure how many children he had.

It is also the case that women, as multiple polls show, tend to rate public services, such as the proper funding of healthcare, higher on their list of voting priorities; they are more likely to be anti-austerity; and are turned off by macho posturing (JCB diggers busting through walls, anyone? ) As a populist, right-leaning politician, which is what he has become despite his relatively liberal stint as London mayor, it makes sense that Johnson might not have seemed the ideal choice for many women.

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