After nearly three years in office, Theresa May is set to stand down as Conservative party leader on 7 June – but who do the bookies and betting exchanges expect to replace her?
Already, £1.14m has been wagered on Betfair on the identity of the next Tory leader and, despite the large number of candidates, the clear favourite is the former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. Betfair is now quoting digital odds of 1.93, which works out at an implied 51.8% chance.
The traditional bookies feel the same way – Ladbrokes, Coral and Betfred are all offering 8/11 (57.9%), though the best odds on him are 10/11 (52.3%) with Boyle Sports.
Boris’ main rival seems to be Dominic Raab, who was Brexit secretary between July and November 2018. Betfair has him in second place at 6.8 – a 14.7% chance. However, all the other potential candidates are quoted at relatively long odds, reflecting the uncertainty in the process.
Michael Gove, the environment secretary, is in third place at 13.5 (7.4%), with Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary, right behind him at 16 (6.25%). Andrea Leadsom, who recently resigned from the Cabinet, is at 22, while the recently appointed defence secretary, Rory Stewart, is at 24.
Having made some tips two years ago as to the identity of both the next prime minister and the next Conservative leader, I’m going to stick to my rule about never betting on the same contest twice.
Still, I would note that the Conservatives have a reputation for not picking the candidate who starts out as the favourite. The classic example is 1975, when everyone thought that Ted Heath would easily see off a leadership challenge from Margaret Thatcher, and that William Whitelaw was the natural successor. Similarly, few predicted that John Major would become prime minister in 1990.
William Hague’s rise in 1997, meanwhile, owed a lot to the implosion of Michael Howard’s campaign, while Howard repeatedly ruled out being Conservative leader, before he took over from Iain Duncan Smith in 2003. David Davis, not David Cameron, was the favourite in 2005, while Boris Johnson knows all too well what happened in 2016.
Of course, this time could well be different, as there is a strong sense that the Conservatives need to pick a Leave campaigner. Even some of the most vocal anti-Johnson Conservatives seem to have made peace with him. However, if the past three years in politics has taught us anything it’s this – always expect the unexpected.