At the end of a long leadership election, the news that we all expected at the beginning was confirmed today. Boris Johnson has been selected as the new leader of the Conservative party and, after a cursory meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace tomorrow, will be announced as the Prime Minister some time on the afternoon of the 24th of July, 2019. Johnson secured 66% of the votes of the party membership – somewhat less than was expected – and will move into Number 10 Downing Street on Wednesday evening.
There are two competing schools of thought on how Johnson will move forward from here. An enthusiastic public backer of Brexit, the new PM could decide to populate his Cabinet and front-bench team with similarly evangelical Brexiters. On the other hand, he could feel that so doing would harden opposition to him from within his own party, tie his hands when it comes to making policy, and adopt a “big tent” approach in the hope of remaining leader for as long as possible, also increasing the chances of securing a deal with the European Union. Below, we look at the best bets that can currently be made on the aftermath of this leadership election.
A team you can put your Truss in?
Whenever a new Prime Minister is elected, one of the key questions is always going to be who they choose as their Chancellor. In many ways a more powerful role than that of PM, the Chancellor dictates economic policy and has influence on how the rest of the Cabinet can move forward. Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May chose Philip Hammond in this role, a “moderate” who was implacably opposed to leaving the EU without a deal, and who will not continue in Number 11 having announced his resignation rather than serve under Johnson.
The new PM is expected to begin assembling his Cabinet shortly after taking office, meaning we will know tomorrow evening who he has chosen to succeed Hammond. At present, Paddy Power have odds of 8/15 that the job will go to the current Home Secretary, Sajid Javid. However, the election campaign showed some discord between Johnson and the MP for Bromsgrove. If Johnson wishes to put down a marker that he intends to govern his way, then you might be best advised to plump for Liz Truss. Her current role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury makes Chancellor a straightforward promotion, and she has been perhaps the most prominent backer of the new leader throughout the campaign. At 3/1, she’s worth a punt.
Who goes and who stays?
Political pundits tend to put a lot of focus upon the Great Offices of State – the top four jobs in any government. The Prime Minister is one, Chancellor another, and rounding out the quartet are the Home and Foreign Secretaries. A clue as to Johnson’s future path will be offered by what he does with the latter two roles. Sajid Javid is mooted for a promotion from Home to Chancellor, while it would be a shock if Jeremy Hunt, Johnson’s defeated opponent in the final round of the leadership battle, were to be moved from the Foreign Office. With a critical situation developing over the Iranian seizing of a British-flagged ship, continuity is expected to be a priority in that position (although nothing can be ruled out given Johnson’s capricious nature).
At Betway, odds are available on the number of the Great Offices which will be held by women. Johnson, as new PM, has deposed one woman (Theresa May), and as of this moment none of those crucial seats are in female hands. At least one promotion, possibly Truss, would be required to avoid immediate questions over the top team’s gender balance. However, stories emerged over the weekend that Johnson was minded to fill the Home Office role with disgraced former International Development Secretary Priti Patel. It may be worth backing two women to occupy key offices, priced at 8/1 – especially if, in a bold move, the new PM shifts Javid to Foreign Secretary at Hunt’s expense.
Another election imminent?
While Johnson’s selection as Prime Minister is seen by many as the final act in a personal story which was always focused on the ambitious former journalist becoming Prime Minister, there’s an old cliche that just became extremely relevant. “It’s one thing getting to the top; quite another to stay there.” might have been designed for just this moment. With a House of Commons deeply divided, the new PM inherits a working majority of just two, meaning any rebellion in Parliament will make it nigh impossible to get legislation passed. Not only that, but a by-election in the Welsh seat of Brecon and Radnor next week is expected to see that constituency claimed by the Liberal Democrats, reducing the majority to a single seat.
That’s a wafer-thin majority even in relatively uncontroversial times. With the new Prime Minister tasked with getting Brexit passed – and issues of homelessness, an NHS in crisis and the continued absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland awaiting on the other side – Johnson may quickly find that his hands are tied, with a new general election the only way to clear the logjam.
As of this moment, you can get odds of 11/10 on a snap election between now and the end of the year at Betfair. Those are tempting, but it’s hard to see Johnson calling an election immediately without at least trying to steer Brexit through – and the Labour opposition have calculated that they won’t bring a Vote of No Confidence immediately, as it may harden support for the new PM among his party. However, a fresh election in the spring of 2020 is far from out of the question, and the same bookmaker has odds of 2/1 on the country going to the polls next year.
Bets of the Day
Liz Truss new Chancellor (Paddy Power, 3/1); Two women in Great Offices of State (Betway, 8/1); Next General Election to be in 2020 (Betfair, 2/1)