This article first appeared at betting.betfair.com on 15th September 2021
Back in July, I added a new position to an ever expanding portfolio regarding Boris Johnson’s exit date. This was prior to all manner of drama. Afghanistan chaos. Tax rises. Labour’s first poll lead of 2021. To my great surprise, the betting has barely moved.
To clarify, this follows earlier advice on 2021, before 2022 and this 2024 target. Obviously, the earliest target would require a rapid, miraculous turn of events. The middle target remains alive, if short on time.
But 2024 looks a truly outstanding bet and better by the day.
Leave aside for a moment the many challenges facing Johnson and his government, and merely consider the date – 2024 is the latest year in which the Next General Election can take place. Having scrapped the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the Tories are free to call one at any time.
Johnson would have to win a pre-2024 election
Therefore, to win this bet Johnson must either hold off that election to the last moment, or emerge as PM after an early one. Neither outcome is certain by any means.
Rumours abound of a 2023, even 2022 poll. Today’s reshuffle may well be Johnson’s last before that poll and his A-team for the campaign – wisely ditching Gavin Williamson and demoting Dominic Raab.
In truth, I tend to treat such speculation with a pinch of salt because twice in the last 14 years, the commentariat was completely blindsided – by Theresa May’s sudden announcement of a snap election in 2017, and Gordon Brown’s failure to call one in 2007.
Why an early election makes sense for Johnson
Nevertheless, there is considerable speculation and logical motive. An imminent election would deny Keir Starmer the chance to turn his dismal ratings around – as is possible given his clear lack of definition, and emerging tranche of worker-friendly policies. Many believe that much worse is to come from the Brexit fallout.
The longer the Tories wait, the greater the risk.
Moreover, if I were in Johnson’s shoes, my head would be constantly twisted looking to avoid knives in my back. Britain’s pliant media may choose to ignore or downplay it, but we’ve seen extraordinary, unprecedented, undemocratic developments this year. Ever since Dominic Cummings left Downing Street.
Powerful forces evidently want Johnson gone
Soon after Cummings left, he went to war with Matt Hancock and Johnson. Hancock duly resigned after being recorded with his mistress, in his Commons office. A replica of the Putinist theatre employed to make or break politicians across the former USSR.
Now this week, another potential leader’s ambitions appear finished. Whoever had these tapes of Michael Gove showing his true, offensively right-wing colours, must have kept them secret for a long, long time. Johnson may deem him too important to remove from his top team, but no way are the Tories going to defend Red Wall seats with Gove in charge.
Recall the last Tory leadership contest, and Donald Trump sleighting Gove in favour of Johnson. An unprecedented turn of events, followed hours later by an expose of Gove’s cocaine use in his youth. Recall the multiple, undenied stories of Johnson’s campaign manager Gavin Williamson. Alleged to be blackmailing Tory MPs, with threats that he’d reveal their secrets.
If somebody – or a network, as Cummings helpfully described the group of people to Laura Kuennsberg, with whom he was trying to remove a democratically elected PM – has a file on senior Tories, Johnson is incredibly vulnerable. His misdeeds have long been either reported, such as the Perugia connection, or assumed to be common knowledge.
Perhaps most worryingly, Lord Ashcroft is writing a book about Carrie Johnson. Previously the mega-donor wrote the humiliating “Call Me Dave” about Prime Minister Cameron, and introduced ‘Pig-gate’ to the world.