UK Politics: Rees-Mogg favourite for next PM ahead of crunch Brexit talks

Will Jacob Rees-Mogg lead the Tory party in Parliament?
Will Jacob Rees-Mogg lead the Tory party in Parliament?
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MP for the 18th-century, arch-Brexiteer and opponent of women's rights - whatever you think of Jacob Rees-Mogg his popularity is on the rise among conservatives and, this week, he became the favourite to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister. Max Liu reports.

"I recommended a bet on the PM leaving office in April to June this year - to coincide with May's local elections - and those odds have shortened to [5.5]"

Jacob Rees-Mogg ends an eventful week as the favourite to be Britain's next Prime Minister. The Tory back-bencher is [6.2], ahead of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn [6.6], to succeed Theresa May in Downing Street - a proposition that, a year ago, would have seemed unthinkable.

May has been attacked from all sides of her party this week and there is much riding on next week's crunch Brexit talks, as the cabinet tries to agree on the deal Britain should try to strike with the EU. Last week, I recommended a bet on the PM leaving office in April to June this year - to coincide with May's local elections - and those odds have now shortened to [5.5].

In the meantime, Rees-Mogg is attracting all the attention in the media and in the betting markets, even though he only became an MP in 2010 and has never had a job in government. Throughout the Cameron years, he was regarded as an eccentric - a backbencher who wore odd suits and had archaic views on social issues which lead some to dub him "the MP for the 18th-century".

Since the Conservatives lost her majority at the general election, however, Rees-Mogg has emerged as a potential successor to the embattled PM. The "Moggmentum" movement wants to emulate Labour's Momentum - the large group of activists who helped Jeremy Corbyn win the leadership and run a successful election campaign in 2017.

Rees-Mogg was recently appointed leader of the European research group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs and is using his new platform to put pressure on May to deliver the kind of hard Brexit - outside the customs union and single market - that he and has ideological kinsmen have always wanted.

He hit the headlines this week when he accused civil servants of trying to frustrate Brexit, an accusation which one former head of the civil service called "reminiscent of Nazi Germany." On Friday night, Rees-Mogg clashed with anti-fascist protestors in Bristol.

Rees-Mogg's popularity on the rise among Tories

None of the controversies around Rees-Mogg have damaged his standing among Tories - if anything, the opposite is true as, this week, Conservative Home published their latest polling of party members: 21% want Rees-Mogg to be their next leader, with 16% favouring Michael Gove and 14% for Boris Johnson.

The problem all three MPs face is that it is Tory MPs, and not party members, who ultimately choose their leader when they vote in the final round of a leadership election. Gove, Johnson and Rees-Mogg are all arguably more popular with party members than with MPs.

If they pool their supporters, however, they might have a chance of ensuring that the next Tory leader is a Brexiteer. A report in today's Sunday Times co-written by Tim Shipman, who has written two excellent books on the Brexit wars and has unrivalled access to Tory party sources, claims that could happen.

Shipman says some MPs on the right of the Tory party are plotting to put together a Brexiteer dream team to oust May. It would have Johnson as PM, Gove as deputy and Rees Mogg as chancellor. Eurosceptics have reportedly contacted Johnson with the plan. The Foreign Secretary is [7.4] to be next PM and [7.6] in the next Conservative leader market.

Labour election odds lengthen

In spite of the chaos in the Conservative Party, the odds on Labour winning the next election actually narrowed this week. It was a marginal drift - from [1.94] to [1.98] - but this was the kind of seven days in which you'd have expected the price on Labour to shorten.

Jeremy Corbyn's party have their own divisions - as the dispute involving Haringey Council demonstrates - and there will be plenty of opposition MPs who believe they should be further ahead in the polls.

With YouGov, in fact, the two main parties are even on 42% each which is why No Overall Majority [2.58] is the favourite outcome at the next election, with a Tory majority [2.84] actually rated more likely than a Labour one [2.92].

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