Another weekend of intrigue in the Conservative party has seen Boris Johnson cement his position as the favourite to take over as party leader and, potentially, Prime Minister.
Having suffered a decline in popularity since the Brexit referendum was held in June 2016; a period in which he endured a brief and widely-criticised tenure as Foreign Secretary, Johnson’s political fortunes have been on the rise since March, and the government’s failure to get a Brexit deal through Parliament by the March 29 deadline.
According to bookmakers, Johnson is generally regarded as the 7/4 favourite, with one or two offering 15/8 on the MP for Henley-on-Thames. He has a substantial lead in the betting over the former Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab (5/1), who resigned from the government last November, and the apparently rehabilitated Jeremy Hunt (11/1), who has been re-positioning himself as a Brexiteer in recent weeks.
Johnson’s 2016 nemesis, Michael Gove, who famously torpedoed Johnson’s leadership election bid in the wake of David Cameron’s resignation by standing himself, is the fourth favourite at 12/1, while the former favourite in this market, Sajid Javid, has slipped in the betting following a series of political controversies, and can now be backed at 20/1 with some bookmakers.
Bookmakers had allowed Johnson’s price to drift in recent months, despite his ongoing popularity among rank-and-file party members as the perception was that Conservative MPs would work to ensure that he was eliminated from the running in any leadership contest at the first stage, before two alternative names are put to a nationwide vote of party members.
Yet the chaos surrounding the government’s failure to get a deal through Parliament, the further weakening of Prime Minister Theresa May’s authority, and the threat of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn appear to have shifted opinion in Westminster, to Johnson’s apparent advantage.
But despite a number of senior – and not so senior – Conservatives putting their names into the hat in recent days, there is still no clear signal from the Prime Minister about when she might step down. There are reports that she has promised to step down if her Brexit deal, which may be brought back to Parliament in early June, was voted down for a fourth time, which would mean a leadership election in June or possibly early July, but this has not yet been confirmed.