The current favourite to be the next leader of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, has faced a difficult weekend, with criticism over his private life, and attacks by his rival Jeremy Hunt.
His rough 48 hours has been reflected in the betting markets, with odds on a Johnson win drifting significantly since Friday when he topped the final leadership ballot with 160 votes compared to the total of 77 MPs who put their support behind Hunt. Going into the weekend, Johnson was as short as 1/10 with some bookmakers, but by Monday morning, his odds had drifted alarmingly, to 1/4 in some places, while Hunts odds have continued to shorten. The current Foreign Secretary can be backed at 7/2 to beat his predecessor at the Foreign Office, and while Hunt remains the clear outsider, his team have clearly been emboldened by the weekend’s events.
Having initially appeared to favour a low-key approach to a campaign in which Johnson was expected to earn the overwhelming endorsement of Tory members, Hunt has gone on the attack over the weekend, calling Johnson a ‘coward’ for refusing to answer questions about his private life, and for failing so far to commit to taking part in a Sky TV debate scheduled for Tuesday.
On Saturday it was widely reported that Johnson had been involved in a domestic disturbance at his London flat, which led to police being called and a recording of an argument between Johnson and his girlfriend being given to the national media. Johnson’s supporters in the press and the Conservative establishment have rallied around him, variously attacking the neighbours who reported the incident and the newspapers that reported it, but their vigorous defence of Johnson and his refusal to answer questions about it at a hustings in Birmingham on Sunday appear to have been unsuccessful, at least, according to the current betting markets.
Johnson was also criticised for his remarks about Brexit at the Birmingham event, in which he appeared to suggest that the UK could go for No Deal Brexit, then negotiate a free-trade deal with the EU during the transition period. As several commentators pointed out, there would be no transition period in the event of No Deal. Johnson and his team will be hoping that this weekend’s misadventures are not a sign of things to come.