WEBWIRE – Wednesday, April 20, 2022
The greatest drop in living standards in the UK since records began; a David vs Goliath war in Europe with civilians shot in the streets and modern cities reduced to rubble; a global virus pandemic leaving families forced to literally stay at home.
It feels like a generations worth of tumult has been squeezed into a couple of years as though someone has accidentally hit the fast forward button and we are living through the consequences.
Its a cliché to step back and opine that these are unprecedented times.
What Im interested in is the impact that these huge global events are having on the individual. It feels inevitable to me that peoples attitudes will be dramatically shifted. If the fast forward button has been hit, public opinion will also be changing at double or triple speed.
Lets be frank: those in the media bubble or Westminster bubble havent always been fast enough in identifying the shifting tectonic plates of what the public actually think. Brexit, Donald Trump and even the Conservative landslide victory of 2019 took too many by surprise.
Im excited to be launching a new Wednesday evening programme on Sky News at 9pm to take the political temperature in these increasingly heated times. My Sunday morning interview programme, Sophy Ridge on Sunday, has always tried to get out of London to speak to voices from across the country an important check on any Westminster bias – which we will continue to do.
In addition The Take with Sophy Ridge will introduce a weekly focus group a representative and weighted panel of Sky News viewers who are geographically and politically balanced to try and pick up the early signs of shifting public opinion. Its a more sophisticated and representative version of the TV vox pop. Well be able to go directly to our panel for reaction to the breaking news of the day, and use their feedback to inform our interviews with politicians and decision makers.
The mid-week point is often when politics is at its most critical, so well also have takes from across Westminster interviews with government ministers plus interesting backbenchers and well be keeping a close eye on Prime Ministers Questions showing you viewpoints you may not have spotted. Plus well have analysis from Sky News top political team, including regular polling updates from our Deputy Political Editor Sam Coates.
In the rollercoaster of the 2020s, all the old certainties have been ripped up. Viewpoints that are so established they have lazily been treated as fact are changing rapidly.
You only have to look at the change in Rishi Sunaks approval ratings. After a series of damaging headlines about his wifes tax arrangements and his ownership of a US green card while Chancellor, his approval rating dropped to a low of -15 in an Opinium poll for the Observer. Only four months ago it stood at a very healthy plus 11. In Westminster the man whose path to the leadership was until recently discussed as an inevitability is now seen as a tarnished brand.
The debate around partygate has been another example of the fast forward politics of 2022. At the beginning of the year a succession of carefully targeted leaks around parties in Downing Street during Covid restrictions looked like they could spell the end of Boris Johnsons premiership. I was seriously wondering if I would return from maternity leave to a new Prime Minister.
Last week the police issued fixed penalty notices to both Boris Johnson and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak for breaking their own Covid laws by their presence at the PMs birthday party in No10. They are believed to be the first sitting Prime Minister and Chancellor to be criminally sanctioned and more £50 fines could be on the way.
And yet Boris Johnson believes he can ride it out. He has apologised to Parliament and given a plea for perspective. With a war in Europe, this is not the time for a change of leader, were told.
This week there was grovelling from Boris Johnson, fury from Keir Starmer and a series of Conservative MPs who spoke out to withdraw their support from the Prime Minister. But there have been many more who have publicly defended him. On Thursday Labour will table a motion to try and trigger a parliamentary investigation into whether the PM broke the ministerial code but No10 may feel the moment of most jeopardy has passed, for now.
But, I wonder.
What will truly be the lasting public reaction to partygate? Will it all be forgotten? Or has a critical mass of opinion about Boris Johnson irrevocably shifted since his landslide majority in 2019? Has the Prime Minister saved himself but lost the Conservatives the next election in the process?
The consensus in Westminster seems to be that Mr Johnson political escape artist that he is has survived (relatively) unscathed. But it wouldnt be the first time that Westminster had got something wrong.
Its one of the first things Ill be trying to explore in The Take.
By Sophy Ridge, Sky News presenter
Watch The Take with Sophy Ridge at 9pm tonight on Sky News – available via Sky TV, Freeview, and on the live streaming service on the Sky News mobile and website
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