Focus groups liken Boris Johnson to Mr Bean over pandemic response

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) in Downing Street, Lo

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) in Downing Street, London. - Credit: PA

Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock have both been compared to TV characters in the latest poll that explored public perceptions of No 10's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Respondents said Johnson reminded them of Mr Bean while the health secretary was compared to the self-pitying Ian Beale from BBC's EastEnders.

A portion wished New Zealand's Jacinda Arden had been in charge of the UK's response while others said they were concerned about the number of coronavirus contracts being handed to people with links to the Tory Party.

Polling by Britain Thinks, a strategic consultancy firm run by Gordon Brown's former polling adviser Deborah Mattinson, quizzed 15 people in four focus groups to understand their attitudes towards government, the vaccine, and how the virus was affecting their lives over the past fortnight, the Sunday Times has reported.

Combined with a nationwide poll, the results showed Britons are still ill at ease but realistic about the problems caused by Covid while 56% said they were more fearful of the virus than at any other time in the crisis.

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Mattinson said: "We've been tracking attitudes to the Covid-19 crisis since March 2020. It's been an emotional rollercoaster but views have never been as bleak as they are right now."

Just 41% of voters think the government has done as well as possible dealing with the pandemic, compared to 51% who disagreed. 

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Several made clear their disgust that contracts to supply Personal Protective Equipment and free school meals were handed to Tory donors, with one respondent accusing the government of "lining up people's pockets rather than save people's lives".

Even more damning were personal reviews of the prime minister's performance. 

A Tory voter - and a Labour backer - both unprompted compared to Johnson to Mr Bean.

Jason, a banking worker, said Johnson resembled wimpish Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. "He thinks he's got it all under control and then something goes wrong. He has everyone's interests at heart but deep down he probably isn't the one to deliver," reflected Jason.

Danny, and IT engineer who votes Conservative, said Johnson struggled to keep his messaging coherent and on track. "It feels like he's making it up as he goes along," he remarked.

Hancock fared little better and was compared to Ian Beale from EastEnders because, as Jason puts it, "he wants people to feel sorry for him".

The health minister crying in one interview cut through. When one respondent was asked what sort of car Hancock would be, she replied: "Something that breaks down."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak received praise but was also criticised for spreading the virus with his Eat Out To Help Out scheme.

Virtually all focus groups agreed the government was unprepared and acted too slow to contain the virus, with many questioning Johnson's decision to let the mixing of households at Christmas go ahead. 

Respondents also said they preferred Arden or Piers Morgan to have been in charge of the UK's Covid response over Johnson.

Nikki said of Arden: "She listened to the scientists straight away and shut down. They are completely back to normal now. We are an island. I don't see why we couldn't have done something similar.

Nicola Sturgeon's name was also thrown around, as well as Lord Sugar's, lead star of The Apprentice.

Alex, a railway engineer, said he wanted Morgan or Lord Sugar to prime minister because they were "straight talkers". "That's the type of person I would like ruling the country," he said.

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