He’s on the TV. He’s in the papers, from broadsheets to red-tops. He’s leading nearly every radio bulletin and is the subject of much political betting. Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is everywhere in political news right now – whether it be for his private life or public views, and it doesn’t take much to figure out that he wants the top job – Number 10 Downing Street.
But should we put our money where his mouth is?
Well, a leadership contest can be triggered in two ways:
Then there are two stages:
1922 Chair Graham Brady must receive 48 letters to start proceedings. Now the Parliamentary party is close to that limit, spurred on by the backlash to the Chequers deal, but there are many reasons to think that this is a longer-term event.
Negotiations with the EU are coming to a close, and it looks to be very unlikely that May will be forced out before those end, regardless of whether they have a deal or not.
There’s also the matter of the No Confidence vote. Whilst one needs ‘only’ 48 MPs to trigger a No Confidence vote, but 158 MPs must vote against her to trigger the leadership election and should she survive, that would put the brakes on any ambitions for at least a year (in terms of leadership elections).
The grassroots. Should he get to the final two, Johnson would be the strong favourite against any likely opponent. According to the latest polling from Conservative Home, the grassroots Tory website, Johnson is favoured by 35% of Tory members in a hypothetical race for the next leader, with a lead of 20% over next closest rival Sajid Javid.
There would be only two in a final race, but most Tory leavers would be naturally inclined to support Johnson. 64% of Conservatives told YouGov that Chequers (a deal which is being backed by the remaining Cabinet but few else) was too soft a deal and 60% of Conservative voters as polled by YouGov have a favourable view of him (37% unfavourable).
One could also imagine potential Rees-Mogg voters (9.61%) backing the former Foreign Secretary along with those who declared support for David Davis (4.81%), backing him if he came up against a Remain candidate.
Many MPs can get onto the ballot, but to reach the final two MPs must make it through the rounds to get there.
Johnson’s popularity with members cannot be denied, but that is not the case with the Party. His aggressive manoeuvres at last year’s Party Conference are fresh in the memory of many MPs. His constant outbursts on Brexit have always drawn ire, but his description that May had “had put the UK in a suicide vest and handed the detonator to Brussels” crossed a line for many MPs.
Tom Tugendhat, the Chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee said Mr Johnson needed to grow up and his comments were not funny, tweeting:
“A suicide bomber murdered many in the courtyard of my office in Helmand. The carnage was disgusting, limbs and flesh hanging from trees and bushes. Brave men who stopped him killing me and others died In horrific pain. Some need to grow up. Comparing the PM to that isn’t funny.”
Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan said the comments were “one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics” and should mark the “political end” of Mr Johnson’s career.
Johnson’s backers are loud, but quiet in number, and it is not hard to imagine several candidates crowding him out, especially if there should be another leaver.
Probably not. Although at 9/2 with Betway for the next Tory leader, this is a tricky question. Should Johnson make the final two those odds would look huge but getting there is an increasingly tricky passage for him and other contenders will make their bids, including some who either campaigned for, or endorsed leaving. Timing is another issue that needs to be considered in your Boris betting strategy – a deal is likely to have been agreed, thus removing one of Johnson’s biggest assets in such a race.