UK Politics: Johnson only 50/50 to lead Tories until 2024

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
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As a poll puts the two main parties level, and the Tories' election odds drift, the real question is whether Boris Johnson will lead them into it, says Max Liu...

"Winning a majority doesn’t guarantee that a PM will lead their party into the next election. The '87 election proved to be Thatcher’s last while Cameron was gone a year after winning in 2015."

Boris Johnson is only a 50/50 chance on the Betfair Exchange to still be leader of the Conservative Party in four years. The prime minister is [2.02] to leave in 2024 - the year when the next general election is scheduled to take place - or later, at the same time as a poll put Labour and the Tories level on 40 points each.

The poll was published as Johnson was blasted for his u-turns - on facemasks in schools, the exams fiasco and extending free school meals into the summer holidays - by Tory MP Charles Walker who is vice-chair of the influential 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers.

Walker said governing by u-turn was "unsustainable" and claimed MPs were in "despair" as they struggled to defend the government's actions to their constituents.

The odds on the Conservatives winning another majority, meanwhile, have drifted from [3.15] this time last week to [3.3] - a remarkable price less than nine months after Johnson lead his party to an 80-seat majority.

The last time the Tories achieved anything like that was in 1987 when Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives won a majority of 102. Thatcher famously said she was "not for turning" but u-turns have been a feature of Johnson's time in Downing Street.

The Tories are [1.83] to win the most seats at the next election - so hardly any drift there - and bettors still back them to be the largest party.

Labour, however, will be delighted with the way they have eaten into the Tory advantage. Opinium, who put the two main parties level this weekend, had the Tories 26 points ahead in March.

Will Johnson lead Tories into next election?

The next election is [1.52] to place in 2024 so there is plenty of time for the Tories to open up another advantage. But that doesn't mean Johnson will necessarily get another four years in Downing Street.

Last week I discussed the Tories' next election odds but I've felt for months that the most promising position is on betting against Johnson leading them into it.

Cameron and Johnson.jpg

Winning a large majority doesn't guarantee that a PM will lead their party into the next election. The '87 election proved to be Thatcher's last, as she was ousted from within her own party, while David Cameron was gone a year after winning in 2015.

There have long been doubts about Johnson's appetite for work. As mayor of London he was notoriously lazy, preferring photo opportunities and headline-grabbing initiatives (the garden bridge) to thoughtful policy-making. He managed to serve eight years as mayor but it won't be as easy to keep running the country.

Johnson's critics, such as his biographer Sonia Purnell, have argued that, while his hunger for power has never been in doubt, he has little vision for what to do with it (remember the pro and anti-Brexit op-eds he wrote before deciding which side to bat for?). That might be one reason why he is so reliant on his chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

Dom Cummings - 1280.jpg

This week the Times reported that Cummings' father-in-law said Johnson will quit as PM next year because of the lasting effects of his time in intensive care. Johnson was hospitalised with coronavirus in April - the moment when, he's fond of joking, he was at his most popular with the public - and the Times reported that he plans to go in six months.

You can get [3.55] on Johnson leaving in 2021, although Downing Street has called the Times' report "utter nonsense". That may well be so but there's little doubt that antagonism towards the PM is rising among Tory MPs as they return to parliament this week. There is a long way to go before the next general election, and I certainly wouldn't back current favourite Rishi Sunak [3.75] to be the Tories' next leader, but I have serious doubts that Johnson will go the distance.

UK - Party Leaders: UK - Party Leaders (Exit Dates - Boris Johnson)

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