The front-runner in the Conservative leadership election race, Boris Johnson, has held his ground, at least according to the bookmakers, despite his decision not to take part in Sunday’s leadership debate on Channel Four.
Johnson’s failure to sign up for the debate was marked by an empty lectern, as the five other candidates took to the stage to make their case, but judging by the state of the betting markets, Johnson’s chances have not been hit by his absence.
The MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, who scored a commanding 36.4 percent of the vote in last week’s first ballot of MPs, has seen his price cut steadily in recent weeks, and following Sunday’s debate, he remains the overwhelming favourite with most bookmakers. If you want to back the former Foreign Secretary, you will have to take odds of 1/6 or even 1/8 in some places.
The big winner on the night appears to have been Rory Stewart. The former diplomat and current Secretary of State for International Development finished last of the remaining six candidates in the first ballot, scooping only 19 votes, but he performed strongly, distancing himself from his colleagues in suggestion that it was a ‘fantasy’ to imagine a new deal Brexit deal could be struck with the European Union before the Brexit deadline of October 31.
Stewart, who could be backed at double figures a couple of weeks ago, has been shortened across the board and is now the clear second favourite on 9/1. But the other four contenders all saw their prices drift. Jeremy Hunt (16/1) made little impression, while Dominic Raab, who was criticised by all of his opponents for suggesting that it might be necessary to close down Parliament to force through a No-Deal Brexit, is now the rank outsider and can be backed at 100/1 with some bookies.
Johnson has committed to appearing in the next debate, on the BBC on Tuesday, following the result of the second ballot, held earlier that day. That ballot will see any candidate who fails to secure the support of 10 percent of MPs (32) drop out of the race. Further ballots can be held on Wednesday and Thursday to whittle the contenders down to two, with Tory members given the final say.