So the news that all politics buffs have been expecting for a while is now official: As of the 7th of June, Theresa May will no longer be the leader of the Conservative party. She will stay on as Prime Minister after that date, for as long as it takes to select a new leader, and will then hand over to her successor before – if recent history is to be any guide – leaving Parliament at the next election to try her hand at something resembling a normal life.
With the news announced this morning, attention will now turn to the identity of the next Prime Minister, and whether the expected change in tactics from the successor will see any more progress made on the issue of Brexit. The field for the leadership contest is expected to be somewhat crowded – as many as twenty MPs have been mooted as potential new leaders since May announced last year that she would not be leading the party into a 2022 General Election – but there is a definite favourite. Here in our Bet of the Day Politics Special, we take a look at that favourite, a few possible challengers, and what this means for politics in this country going forward.
Johnson to finally get the job?
Just under three years ago, in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, attention turned to Boris Johnson, seen as the leader of the successful Leave campaign. With David Cameron having announced his intention to stand down, his former schoolmate and even more former friend was momentarily favourite to take on the mantle of leader. This was certainly Johnson’s plan, until his ally and potential campaign manager Michael Gove announced his own intention to stand, a move which saw Johnson withdraw, and then spectacularly backfired as Gove was eliminated from the leadership vote at the penultimate hurdle.
This time around, “Boris” is again favourite, and with a growing group of backers is unlikely to find himself cut off at the knees in the same way. The main thing going against him is that he needs to survive early rounds of voting among the party’s MPs before the final round, where the last two standing are subject to a vote by the general membership. As the other contenders include uninspiring names ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Gove (again), and current Home Secretary Sajid Javid, it’s now hard to see how Johnson can be kept out of the final round. He’s odds-on with most bookies, but William Hill have 6/5 on the favourite, which is worth taking.
Who’s bubbling under?
A criticism often levelled at Theresa May was that as a Prime Minister tasked with delivering Brexit, she had limited credibility given that she had campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU. Although her plan for leaving was in many ways more radical than any that had been mooted pre-referendum by even the most ardent Brexiteer, it was repeatedly dismissed by Leave-supporting MPs who asked how a Remain supporter could be trusted to deliver on this issue. It seems unimaginable, then, that the next Prime Minister could be someone who did not campaign to leave; hence Johnson’s huge favour among the membership.
The former Foreign Secretary’s weaknesses are nonetheless considerable: he has a tendency towards loose speaking; he’s not seen as being particularly detail-focused; and not insignificantly, he only chose to back Leave at the very last moment prior to the referendum, having previously indicated he was against the idea. Many Conservatives feel that “the only person who can stop Boris is Boris”. However, a more pragmatic Leaver might just have a chance. At 20/1 to replace May, Penny Mordaunt might be worth a punt; she backed Brexit from the start and is seen as one of few MPs who could unite the party; with Betfair, she may well be worth backing to reach the final two at 12/1.
Winning the job may be the easy part
Once the leadership contest is over – which is expected to be around the middle of July – the winner will then have the simple job of selecting a Cabinet, running the country, and trying to win around the party members who were bitterly opposed to them taking over in the first place. Add to this the fact that May could not steer her deal through the House of Commons because her party lacks a majority – and while the Conservatives can change their leader, they cannot do anything about the Parliamentary arithmetic which means only the most uncontroversial legislation can be sure of gaining enough votes to pass into law.
The new Conservative leader – particularly if it is Johnson – will have their work cut out to manoeuvre any deal through Parliament. If, as is feared, they try to leave without a deal, they will instantly face rebellions in the House that could mortally wound their government. In due course, the new leader may well find themselves having to “go back to the people”, calling a new General Election in the hopes of getting a majority. With the deadline for making a deal set for October, it could well be that another election is called before the end of the year. Unibet’s market for the year of the next election currently has 2019 as the narrow favourite, at 9/5 – and with Johnson felt by many to be the only Conservative who could beat Labour in an election, he may just feel tempted to call one sooner rather than later.
Bets of the Day
Boris Johnson to be next Prime Minister (William Hill, 6/5); Penny Mordaunt to make final two (Betfair, 12/1); A general election in 2019 (Unibet, 9/5)