Will Boris Johnson fall to favourite’s curse?
The third substantial gamble in three years is underway on Boris for PM. The first, following David Cameron’s resignation, never even made the starting gate. The second, in the aftermath of the 2017 General Election, became an awful value bet in a matter of hours once it became clear Theresa May was staying on. This time there’s at least a vacancy and he’s definitely running.
Before steaming in, remember that the early favourite has never won a Tory leadership contest since the advent of political betting. This is more than coincidence. The race conditions make it hard to front-run and early momentum is invariably driven by media speculation from pundits who, frankly, have a terrible record.
Johnson is favourite primarily because the latest poll of party members shows him well clear of the rest. Before they get a say, however, the former Foreign Secretary must finish top-two in a field of perhaps 15 or more, to be decided by MPs on a multi-round knockout basis. That will require support from around a third of MPs.
It is widely known that his Westminster colleagues do not share the views of their wider audience. He is both distrusted and regarded incompetent. This is why his leadership plans fell apart in 2016 – after key ally Michael Gove abandoned him. On the plus side, many regard him as the likeliest leader to win a general election.
This time he has secured some important early endorsements – Gavin Williamson, Jacob Rees Mogg. On the other hand, natural backers such as his former deputies in London, James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse, are reported to be running themselves.
Dominic Raab is very well placed
Last month, the Conservativehome website polled members on a series of hypothetical head-to-head finals. Fellow ‘Hard Brexiteer’ Johnson was the only one to beat Raab and only by 46/39 – easily reversable during a contest of this nature. Especially given that he only recently sprung to prominence in the last year when becoming Brexit Secretary and then resigning in protest at Theresa May’s deal.
That move and his consistent opposition since plays perfectly with the mood of members. As explained last week and when tipping him repeatedly from 27-1 down, he is very well placed to emerge as the top Brexiteer. The challenge is now to make the final to which end the endorsement of David Davis can only help.
Michael Gove the best bet at the prices
Few would have considered Gove a future leader after being well beaten in 2016, perceived as having knifed Johnson in the back. In returning to Cabinet, he has since emerged as a true Tory big beast. A Brexiteer in 2016, who nonetheless remained loyal to May, is now a potential unity candidate.
Whatever misgivings colleagues have regarding his trustworthiness or electability, nobody doubts Gove’s intellect or ambition. He was reported as having a team in place, ready to take over should May fall, several weeks ago. Once he announces, expect a string of significant endorsements. At current odds, he’s the best bet on the market.
Jeremy Hunt a plausible finalist
Similar comments regarding ambition and endorsements apply to the Foreign Secretary. Hunt looks certain to at least survive the early rounds among MPs and is a very plausible finalist. That is probably the limit of his potential, though. As an ardent Remainer in 2016 who didn’t resign over the deal, any pivots towards no deal will reek of insincerity to members. In those head-to-heads, he lost resoundingly 42/29 and 60/30 to Gove and Raab respectively.
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