UK Politics Odds: Don't bet on a Euro 2020 bounce for Boris Johnson

  • Max Liu
  • 4:00 min read
Boris Johnson at the England v Denmark Euro 2020 semi-final
Boris Johnson wants to make political capital from England's success at Euro 2020

Boris Johnson is trying to make political capital from England's success at Euro 2020 but the public are unlikely to be fooled says Max Liu...

"In 1966, when England won the World Cup, Harold Wilson was PM with a 96-seat majority. He lost the next general election and Edward Heath came to power."

Like the rest of us the government has been on a journey during Euro 2020. England play Italy in the final at Wembley tonight and, with Gareth Southgate's team marginal favourites, there is palpable excitement across the country.

You can get our experts' tips for just about every decent betting angle on our dedicated Euro 2020 blog, but what about the politics of it all? I know, it would be nice if we could leave politics out of sport, but I'm afraid it doesn't work like that, and certainly not in England at the moment.

Gary Neville knew this when, after England's semi-final victory over Denmark on Wednesday, he said Southgate made a refreshing contrast to the poor leadership we've seen in England for the past couple of years - a clear dig at Boris Johnson.

Johnson's government has involved itself in plenty of aspects of the England team at the Euros. Before a ball was kicked, the prime minister tried to make culture war capital out of refusing to criticise fans who booed England players for taking the knee. His Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said she did not support players taking the knee and said fans had the right to boo.

Priti Patel 956.jpg

Four weeks later, Johnson was at Wembley for the semi-final, wearing an England shirt over his formal shirt and tie, cheering on the players. Patel too donned an Three Lions jersey and took to Twitter to post nauseating photos of herself celebrating the win. We shouldn't be surprised. These are politicians with a taste for double standards and empty gestures.

But it's actually very difficult to think of a single example where a national sporting success has boosted a government's popularity in any significant way.

Governments rarely benefit from sporting success

In 1966, when England won the World Cup, Harold Wilson was the prime minister. He had a 96-seat majority, which his government had won at a general election in March of that year, so how did he get on at the next general election in 1970? He lost and Edward Heath came to power.

Harold Wilson statue.jpg

It has been claimed that, had England won Euro '96, John Major would have brought the upcoming general election to the autumn and tried to cash in on the positivity. Of course, England lost and Major hung on until May 1997 when his party were hammered by Tony Blair's Labour.

It would have been reasonable for Major to think he could associate himself with English sporting success. He was a genuine enthusiast (he went to the cricket at Lord's the day he left office), who understood the importance of sport to the country, and his government invested big money in it.

More recently, in 2012 the then chancellor George Osborne was booed at the London Olympics. Parts of the games opening ceremony were interpreted as a rebuke to David Cameron's Tory government. Cameron was keen for England to host the 2018 World Cup. It was believed that England had a real chance but, in the end, that proved wide of the mark.

Johnson wants England to host the 2030 World Cup. If he delivers that then he will be popular, regardless of whether or not he really supports the team, but as it stands I don't see how England's success (win or lose tonight) helps him.

It could even work the other way, with a team made up of players' with roots in countries all over the world, showing the benefits of being open to internationalism and immigration - a triumph over the jingoism to which Johnson's government has hitched itself.

Johnson wants more power to call elections

The odds on a the Tories winning a majority at the next election have drifted since their vaccine bounce earlier this year: they are 2.1211/10 on the Exchange.

This week, Labour leader Keir Starmer - a genuine football fan who was at Wembley for England's Euro '96 semi-final against Germany - dubbed rising Covid-19 infection rates "the Johnson variant" ahead of the government's plans to remove all restrictions on 19 July. It was probably Starmer's best line yet.

The next general election is scheduled for May 2024 - it's 1.558/15 to take place that year or later - but on Tuesday MPs voted through plans to abolish the Fixed Term Parliaments Act that was brought in 10 years ago. The new bill proposes that the power to call a general election should rest with the PM.

Johnson wants to be able to call an election whenever he likes, so this is an important development for those betting on what year the next one will take place. The bill has passed its second reading and will now move to the next stage. This is another reason why I like 2023 at 3.39/4 in the Year of Next General Election market.

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