After weeks of overtly attempting to destabilise his boss and the media saturation that he knew it would generate, Boris Johnson has resumed favouritism to be the Next Tory Leader. However at 6.4, equivalent to a 15% chance, this market move carries nothing like the optimism that forced his odds down to 2.66 (37%) during election night.
The Foreign Secretary’s chance was also boosted by the latest Yougov poll of Tory members, which put him ahead of the pack. Given a massive advantage in terms of name recognition though, 21% isn’t an overwhelming figure in what looks a thoroughly wide-open race. We don’t even know when it will be and, while latest polls of theoretical head-to-heads point to him beating other big Tory beasts, such scenarios are unlikely to occur.
To earn a place on that ballot among members, Johnson would need to finish in the top-two among MPs. As argued a fortnight ago, that is unlikely given longstanding and growing doubts about his competence, credibility, loyalty and professionalism. Sunday’s ‘Blonde Ambition’ documentary did nothing to allay those concerns. Tory MPs are not about to put this guy in charge of the Brexit negotiations.
In any case, it would be an enormous gamble to switch leader during a process that has already made painfully slow progress – not least due to being interrupted for an unnecessary snap election. Unless May quits unexpectedly – in which case a quick coronation for David Davis would be my prediction – there will be no contest until at least mid-2019. Johnson would be simply too divisive, especially in light of his recent plotting.
If we’re looking at 2019 or later, that leaves plenty of time for younger candidates to emerge. As a focus group by Frank Luntz on BBC Sunday Politics implied, Davis is the best-placed Cabinet heavyweight but, at the age of 68, he is hardly a long-term option or liable to transform the Tory brand. To achieve that purpose, they will need to look towards the next generation.