This article first appeared at betting.betfair.com on 23rd November 2021
Boris Johnson’s bad month goes from worse to terrible and Betfair markets are responding. The Prime Minister is now around evens to no longer be Conservative leader by 2024 and the odds about a 2022 exit are down to [3.45] – equivalent to a 29% chance.
Disastrous CBI speech piles on the pressure
The explanation is obvious. Any number of issues are taking their toll. The Owen Paterson sleaze row placed corruption centre-stage. Inflation and imminent tax rises. More terrible headlines and a backbench rebellion over the government’s plans for social care. Then yesterday, hours before that rebellion, a shambolic speech to the CBI in which the PM repeatedly lost his thread and started rambling, inaccurately, about Peppa Pig.
Having repeatedly predicted an early Johnson exit, none of this comes as a great surprise but I am wary of talking my own book. Prime Ministers holding large majorities do not generally resign or get forced out mid-term. Tony Blair did resign but it was no surprise, as nobody expected him to run at the next election.
The more relevant precedent would be Margaret Thatcher. When Tory MPs removed her, the party was trailing badly in the polls and two Chancellors had resigned. That isn’t the case today. They are more or less tied with Labour and the Cabinet remain loyal, for now at least. On the flip side of that, though, dumping Thatcher involved turning on a leader whom the party adored. Whereas doubts about Johnson’s credibility were infamous even before he became leader.
Problems highly likely to worsen in 2022
Johnson’s greater problem is that things are likely to get worse. Besides the speech, none of these issues are going away. The tax rises really kick in next April, just before council elections. Covid numbers remain high. Shortages of labour are ongoing, threatening a winter of discontent.
The social care changes are bound to be very unpopular with a key demographic for the Tories, and remain very newsworthy as the legislation goes through the House of Lords. Various legal challenges and inquiries will further expose systemic corruption on Johnson’s watch. There are numerous examples of how the Brexit fallout will worsen throughout 2022.
It amounts to an avalanche of bad political news and there is no evidence to suggest Johnson has the skills or character to withstand it. This, I am sure, is dawning rapidly on Tory MPs, donors and media – the triage who will determine his fate.
Perhaps most worrying for them are signs of life in Keir Starmer’s leadership, and widespread consensus that he outshone Johnson in front of the CBI yesterday. When was the last time a Labour leader got a good review from business leaders? Tony Blair, as Labour racked up huge majorities.
Naturally, some will legitimately point to my lack of neutrality regarding Johnson. I will say two things. First, neutrality in politics is a myth. Those who proclaim it are generally delusional. Second, it isn’t me, or Labour supporters in the media, or Remainers, who are piling on right now. Rather, it is some of his usual cheerleaders.
Are Tory power-brokers moving against Johnson?
Understand how British politics works. There is an extraordinary, incestuous relationship between the Conservative Party and media. Here is not the place but anyone can check the ties through family, school, university, party donors and senior media roles in the BBC and beyond. There is a power nexus, forever hidden from public view.