After what had seemed to be an interminable series of warm-up laps, a packed field of Conservative Party leadership contenders were finally given the green light last week when Prime Minister Theresa May announced her plan to stand down on June 7.
And with the race now underway in earnest, some of the back markers have been making a move through the pack. The most prominent movers so far this week have been Rory Stewart and James Cleverly. Stewart, who was promoted to Secretary of State for International Development earlier this month, is as short as 11/1 with some bookmakers, making him the fifth favourite, while Cleverly, the former Deputy Party Chair, has also seen his price shorten, to around 22/1.
Cleverly has had his share of controversy in a relatively short political career so far but is seen as a rising star in the party. He is very firmly in the Brexit camp, and on Wednesday was quoted in the UK media suggesting that a failure to implement Brexit would be worse than a No Deal Brexit. The problem for Cleverly this time round is that there is no shortage of Brexiteer candidates, most of them higher up the leadership pecking order, and that is reflected in the fact that he has, as yet, failed to attract any explicit support from Tory MPs.
With only two confirmed backers, Stewart would not appear to be in a much stronger position, but he has a couple of advantages that have caught the attention of political punters. The first is his relative youth. At the age of 46 he is younger than all of the contenders ahead of him in the betting. More significantly, he is shaping up as the leading moderate option in a field dominated by Brexiteers and has the potential to attract both moderate and Remain-favouring Conservative MPs, while his impressive resume of military, diplomatic and humanitarian work makes it harder for the right of his party to attack him. Whether he can sneak onto the final two-name ballot that will be put to Conservative members remains to be seen, but with four Brexit supporters ahead of him in the betting, he could be ideally positioned to capitalise on any desire among MPs for a fresh alternative.