There is no doubt, whatever the next few months hold for the future of Brexit, that 2019 is going to be a year of shocks, twists, turns and no small measure of bitterness when it comes to UK politics. In this light, there is a non-negligible chance that each of the main three all-UK parties (the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats) will end the year with a new leader. So, my right honourable friends, let OpenOdds take you through the runners and riders in any potential leadership contest for each of the parties.
In the blue corner…
Assailed on all sides by MPs who want her to take a harder line on Brexit, a softer line on Brexit, to end austerity and to keep it going, Theresa May is hanging onto her job like Leonardo di Caprio to a floating door. We all know what happened to Leo in the end, so will the Prime Minister be shown her own, still-hinged, door this year? And if so, who will replace her?
Well, if you listen to the PM, she won’t be shifted any time soon, but Betway disagree, with odds of ½ that she will cease to be Prime Minister by the end of the year. It’s an open secret that some Cabinet ministers have made their continuing support for the PM dependent on her stepping down once a withdrawal deal has been agreed by Parliament. While the evidence suggests that May would be more than happy to ignore that caveat, mass ministerial resignations could force her hand should she try to outstay her welcome.
So who are the candidates to take her place at the head of the party – and, for the time being, in Downing Street? Paddy Power have former Foreign Secretary and zip-line enthusiast Boris Johnson as 4/1 favourite, and he’s popular with the party membership – who have the final say. The issue with this is that their say only comes after the field has been narrowed to two by a series of votes among the party’s MPs – and with the potential contenders numbering in double figures, that narrowing process is liable to see Johnson, considered a liability by many, ruled out.
Don’t put a penny on Johnson. While you’re at it, don’t bother with Michael Gove, second-favourite at 9/2. You would be better advised backing current Home Secretary Sajid Javid, 11/2 and admired by those who matter for his hard line on law and order, or someone further back in the field who appeals to a wide enough swathe of the party to survive the entire process. Penny Mordaunt, a Brexit supporter but quiet enough about it to be acceptable to most anti-Brexit MPs, is excellent value at 25/1.
And in the red corner…
With a government in turmoil and a country in constitutional crisis, one would usually look to the opposition, and its leader, as the solution to the UK’s problems. However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t had his own troubles to seek recently. Eleven Labour MPs have resigned from the party chiefly in protest at his leadership, and eight of those have joined the nascent Independent Group along with three Conservative defectors. While Corbyn remains popular with the bulk of the party membership, he may find it difficult to achieve any of his policy ambitions with (it is estimated) more than half of the parliamentary party at best skeptical about his fitness for government.
It’s unlikely that Corbyn will be forced into stepping down – a previous attempt to unseat him as leader, by the party’s MPs, failed miserably in 2016. Another such move now would be unlikely to be any more successful. However, should there be another General Election – not out of the question with the House of Commons in clear deadlock over Brexit – defeat for Labour might mean the Islington North MP falls on his own sword. If he does, there are two clear contenders for his successor – and unlike those at the head of the Conservative field, they could realistically carry the support of MPs and membership alike.
Corbyn’s constituency neighbour Emily Thornberry (Islington South) is favourite with Unibet, at 11/2. Eloquent, poised and more than capable of delivering a withering put-down to her rivals across the house, Thornberry would be Labour’s first permanent female leader. Many feel the moment for a woman in the role is past due, but the fact is that regardless of gender, her performance as Shadow Foreign Secretary has won her admirers on the left and right of the party. She represents a realistic consensus candidate.
A short way back on 8/1, Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer is second-favourite. A former Director of Public Prosecutions, Starmer is a feared lawyer, a QC, and the star of some of the most forensic takedowns of Conservative ministers ever seen in the Commons. If it’s not Thornberry, the mantle of leader seems sure to fall to him.
Further back, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is 14/1, but his closeness to Corbyn makes it unlikely he would seek to replace his friend, political ally and fellow left-wing firebrand in the role. Deputy Leader Tom Watson is 20/1, but unpopular in the wider party; you might as well set fire to a £10 note as vote for him. A more realistic bet at the same odds might go to Yvette Cooper – if the fate of Brexit remains unsettled, her Remain credentials may appeal to a membership that is largely anti-Brexit.
And the Lib Dems…
One party certain to have a leadership contest in 2019, barring an unlikely turn of events, is the Liberal Democrats. Current leader Vince Cable has announced that unless there is a second Brexit referendum or another election in the pipeline, he will vacate the role after May’s local elections. While neither of the above caveats can be ruled out entirely, it would be a surprise if a national vote were to be called this side of the summer.
Here, there is a clear race for the succession with two contenders locked at 5/4 with William Hill. Jo Swinson, the current Deputy Leader who was mooted as Tim Farron’s successor in the top job before ruling herself out of the race, will run this time, and would be hard to beat. However, she is likely to face a challenge from Layla Moran. Elected as an MP at the snap election in 2017, Moran is viewed as a more radical contender than Swinson, and the chance to make a statement to differentiate them from the two main parties may appeal to the LibDem membership.
Bets of the Day
Theresa May to depart before 2020 (Betway, ½); Penny Mordaunt next Conservative Leader (Paddy Power, 25/1); Emily Thornberry next Labour Leader (11/2); Layla Moran next LibDem Leader (5/4)