Next Tory leader: Theresa May looks the biggest threat to Osborne

Next Tory leader: Theresa May looks the biggest threat to Osborne

Anti-immigration speech signals the Home Secretary’s intentions

After yesterday’s confident, ambitious speech to his conference, there is no way David Cameron is leaving this job early. If so, that means the betting market to succeed him is going to last until at least 2019.

Comparisons with the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown succession a decade ago are meaningless. Those two and their entourages fell out spectacularly for both personal and ideological reasons. The date of Blair’s resignation was already under discussion before he won a third term, or even perhaps before Labour gained power eight years earlier.

In stark contrast, there is no split between Cameron and George Osborne, his Chancellor and according to the betting markets, heir-elect. Both seem to know how much they compliment each other – Osborne as master tactician, Cameron as the teflon-like front man.

Unless some unseen disaster hits him, I expect Cameron to serve a full-term as promised, or resign right at the end of it to allow his successor a short honeymoon period. Assuming Osborne stays Chancellor with his reputation intact, this would suit him as the continuity, safe pair of hands candidate. With anyone else, the party and country would feel like they were taking a bigger risk.

That is one of the many reasons Osborne is such a strong favourite but, while I wouldn’t argue against him, history strongly suggests we should be looking elsewhere for a better value bet.

At her current odds of 10, Theresa May is the best value option. This week’s anti-immigration speech was just the latest in a series of signals that she intends to run.

It will have endeared her to a large, socially conservative part of the Tory membership – who were always sceptical of Cameron/Osborne’s social libertarianism – and leaves open the prospect of her supporting ‘Out’ at the forthcoming EU Referendum in opposition to the leadership. (Though that is another debate for another day!).

The party’s image could offer another angle. Arguably this government’s biggest image weakness is it’s poshness, and both public schoolboys Osborne and Boris Johnson would represent more of the same. In contrast, many Tories believe they need another female leader to revive the Thatcher glory years, when they could win over 40% of the vote.

There will doubtless be many more twists and turns in this race, and there are other women in contention. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has stated her interest. Liz Truss seems an impressive performer with a big future, although probably part of Team Osborne.

At this stage, backing May at her current 10% odds looks an obvious trading plan because, if she runs as expected, that rating will rise significantly. Moreover, if she does support leaving the EU while her rivals want to stay in, that would be a gamechanger in this notoriously Eurosceptic party.

Updated Tory Leader Book

Back Theresa May 4u @ 10 (new bet)

Back George Osborne 5u @ 9.4 (already advised in March)

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