The Conservative Party Leadership still has some way to run, but ahead of Tuesday’s second round of MP ballots, it seems that Boris Johnson has maintained a huge lead among his colleagues. He is rated as a 1/6 shot by most bookies in the Next Conservative Leader markets, and given his popularity with Tory members, who will have the final say, it is more likely than not that Johnson will be named as the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, at some point in July.
Whoever gets the job will face some pressing and crucial decisions. The extended Brexit deadline runs out on October 31, and Parliament is set for further clashes over how, or indeed if, the UK leaves the European Union. But another issue for the new PM will be when to call a General Election.
Strictly speaking, there is no requirement for the UK to have a General Election before the summer of 2022, five years on from the last one, thanks to the Fixed Term Parliament Act. But Prime Ministers who inherit the job are always under pressure to seek a mandate from the electorate.
Gordon Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair in the summer of 2007, famously hesitated over whether to go to the country that autumn. He chose not to, and within months, the global banking crisis effectively sealed his re-election prospects. Then again, seeking an early General Election can backfire, as it did for Theresa May, whose decision to call one in the summer of 2017, just a year after she became Prime Minister, cost her government its majority and fatally undermined her authority.
But according to the latest betting markets, punters are leaning towards a General Election sooner rather than later. The current favourite in the Year of Next General Election market is 2019, which can be backed at 7/4, with 2022 the narrow second favourite.
Calling a General Election with the Brexit clock ticking would risk being seen as irresponsible, and in addition, the Conservative Party is struggling badly in the polls at the moment. On the other hand, a General Election could be used by the new Prime Minister as a mini-referendum on a particular approach to Brexit. It would certainly be a major gamble, whoever inherits Number Ten.