The scandal-hit Premiership of Boris Johnson is entering its final weeks, as the embattled Conservative leader accepted the inevitable last week after days of rebellion from within his party. By early September, the party hopes, a new leader will be announced, and therefore become the fourth Prime Minister to hold office in the last six years.
As always, when there are moves at the top of UK politics, this has awoken the betting markets, with money now being taken on who will be that new Prime Minister. At the time of writing, eleven MPs have announced that they will be standing to replace Johnson, although this field will be reduced to two by the end of next week following a series of votes among their fellow MPs.
Bookmakers have been setting odds not only on these eleven names, but on any other potentials who might yet put their names forward. At this point, the bookmakers’ favourite is former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, whose resignation from that role is felt by many to have been the fatal blow to Johnson’s hopes of holding on to office. Sunak is priced at around 13/8, with many feeling he has the best shot at attracting support from all wings of the party.
In many ways, the real interest in this market is not who is seen as favourite, but the list of names that are bubbling under. Although many of the expected names are priced shorter than 20/1 – with former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and present incumbent in that role Liz Truss also considered to be contenders – the second-favourite may come as a surprise to casual politics watchers.
Penny Mordaunt, a former Defence Secretary who hasn’t held senior office under Johnson, is priced at 7/2 and may be well-placed to offer a new start for the party and country, given that many of the contenders have recently served prominently in a Johnson cabinet.
Further back, there is a list of names which includes a mix of those who have announced their candidacy and those who have not, and even some who have directly ruled themselves out. Early front-runner Ben Wallace, currently in the Defence post, has said he will not stand, presumably wishing to be held over in his current job. This has seen him fall back to 150/1, the same price as two-time third-place candidate Michael Gove who has also announced his non-candidature. That may be a wounding piece of news for recently-announced candidate Rehman Chishti, who is definitely running but is also priced at 150.
Nadhim Zahawi, who was appointed Chancellor after Sunak’s departure and then called for Johnson’s resignation the following day, has had a lot of the early press attention in the leadership contest, and will therefore be disappointed at his 40/1 price, placing him on level pegging with Home Secretary Priti Patel who has yet to announce whether she will stand.
We can expect some significant moves in this market, not least because any contender who cannot muster 19 MPs or more to support their candidacy will be eliminated before the party begins to vote