British politics has entered an intriguing phase – Theresa May, having stood down last Friday, is no longer leader of the governing Conservative party, but remains the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom pending the results of a leadership election which – if all goes as planned – will end with the announcement of a new leader on the 22nd of July.
There are ten candidates for the job, ranging from party “big beasts” such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, through former Cabinet members like Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab, to the interesting, off-beat names such as current International Development secretary Rory Stewart. The latter has achieved the status of “the Conservative that non-Conservatives find easy to like”, and has attracted plenty of press attention as a result. He is, however, polling well behind Johnson, not least because non-Conservatives don’t have a vote in this election.
Below, we take an up-to-date look at the leadership election and the bets around it, gazing into our crystal ball to see what shape the government might have at the end of July.
Johnson clear favourite, but who’s first for the chop?
In addition to the names above, the remaining contenders for the leadership are as follows: Sajid Javid, current Home Secretary; Esther McVey, who resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary last autumn; Jeremy Hunt, who succeeded Johnson as Foreign Secretary after a stormy period in charge of Health; Matt Hancock, who is the current Health Secretary and had his own app for a brief spell; and Mark Harper, who was Chief Whip for a year – a job in which relative anonymity is an advantage, which is good news for him.
The first round of voting is tomorrow, among the party’s current MPs, and any candidate who does not achieve at least sixteen votes will be eliminated from the contest. Johnson, Hunt, Raab, Javid, Gove and Hancock already have at least that many public endorsements from sitting MPs, and thus are essentially guaranteed passage to the second round. For the remaining four, it could be an anxious wait – but Stewart and Leadsom should be safe. At Betfair, you can get odds of 5/4 on Harper to get the fewest votes, and that’s a sound bet; his campaign has failed to ignite any real attention. With the party grandees expected to hoover up much of the vote, it would be a surprise if he cracked sixteen.
A ton of support for the favourite?
Leading the polling, and the betting, for the role at the moment is Boris Johnson – he’s the candidate seen as having the best chance of winning a General Election, something which might be necessary before the end of the year. He launched his campaign this morning, and it’s been notable how prosaic and serious his approach has been – a clear attempt to move away from the gaffe-prone history that has made many people doubt his credentials for leadership. Apart from anything else, the overwhelming feeling within the party is that he can’t and won’t be stopped – so it’s not worth backing him for the leadership; he’s more or less certain to win it.
An interesting bet is the one on offer at Paddy Power for the number of votes Johnson will win in Thursday’s first round. Any more than 100 will be seen as a clear sign that he has the backing of the party’s MPs, and he has 74 declared supporters at the time of writing. The more votes he gets, the more candidates can be expected to drop out, leaving fewer voting rounds and less chance of a messy, recriminative campaign. The Irish bookmaker has Johnson at 11/8 to get over 100, and the prevailing opinion is that he will manage this, so barring any major catastrophes in the next 24 hours, it’s a bet worth making.
Beyond the contest: Who will PM Johnson pick as his lieutenant?
The leadership contest does run the risk of becoming a boring procession – it’s expected that the final two candidates will be Johnson and Hunt, after a news story about past drug use by previously strong candidate Michael Gove, and in the light of Raab’s lacklustre campaign. The question then becomes who the new Prime Minister will choose as his Chancellor – seen by many as a position more politically important than that of PM, given that the Chancellor sets the country’s spending budget.
Ordinarily, either Hunt or Gove, as the closest challengers, might be considered the best contender for the post. However, both opened their campaign on Monday with speeches that were less than complimentary about Johnson, questioning his seriousness and his ability to run the country. If the favourite wins the election, it remains to be seen whether he will aim for party unity and select one of the big-hitters, or puts personal loyalty first. While Gove is joint-favourite (alongside Javid) at 9/2 with Betway, looking a little further down the list shows Liz Truss, a Johnson loyalist, at 7/1 – and given that her current role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury is one step down from the Chancellor’s position, it might be considered an orderly succession.
Bets of the Day
Johnson to get more than 100 first-round votes (Paddy Power, 11/8); Liz Truss to be next Chancellor (Betway, 7/1); Mark Harper to get fewest first-round votes (Betfair, 5/4)