Bookies Corner – Tory leadership race faces a reality check

Brexit Britain faces further political drama as The Conservative Party sanctions a leadership race to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister.

Preparing for political twists and turns, SBC gets the bookies lowdown on what will be this summer’s most sadistic betting market…


Sarbjit Bakhshi – Smarkets

SBC: What is the mood of the nation telling bookmakers with regards to the Conservative Leadership race. What conclusions can be drawn (if any), from the recent UK local and European Elections?

Sarbjit Bakhshi (Head of Politics Smarkets): The elections were terrible for the Conservative Party, with a loss of 44 councils, 1,330 Councillors, and 15 MEPs. Years of in-fighting and being split on Europe has left the Tories open to challenge by Remain-supporting Liberal Democrats and Change UK on one hand, and by the Leave-supporting Brexit Party on the other.

The next Conservative leader will need to be someone who can either unite their party or take it into a radical direction that will help them recapture errant Tory voters that defected to the Brexit Party. Faced with a party with a clearer stance on Brexit, the Tories are being pushed towards a pro-Brexit leader. The only question will be hard or soft.

According to our market, candidates who have expressed support for a harder Brexit have around a 46% implied probability for becoming leader: Boris Johnson (35%), Dominc Raab (16%), and Esther McVey (2%). Meanwhile, those who are more moderate have a combined implied probability of 29%: Michael Gove (14%), Jeremy Hunt (7%), Rory Stewart (5%), and Matt Hancock (2%).

With this in mind, Johnson, popular with the Tory base and having the right Brexiteer credentials to face off the Brexit Party, appears to be the right favourite. However, as the shortlist of Tory leadership candidates to be put to the wider party is first chosen by MPs, the former London Mayor faces an uphill struggle to clear the first stage.

Johnson’s contract fell from a high of 50% on 24 May suggesting that reality is creeping into the equation and is being priced into the market to counter the campaign that has kept him at the top of our market since the end of March. He may be the strongest of the pack now, but he might not have the ability or popularity amongst MPs to get onto that shortlist.

Matt Shaddick – Ladbrokes

SBC: Is this Conservative leadership race, an exercise in delivering Brexit or finding a party figurehead to lead the Tories into the next General Election?  

Matt Shaddick (Ladbrokes Head of Politics):  It’s clearly a bit of both, but given that every candidate says they will “deliver” Brexit, there might not really be all that much between them on that issue.

On the other hand, there does seem to be a big disadvantage for those candidates who originally voted Remain, no matter how converted they have become. The top 4 in our betting currently were all original Leavers. The least convincing Brexit convert, Rory Stewart, has been one of the big early gambles but looks very short now.

Boris’ main selling point is the idea that he’d be best placed to win a general election but early declarations of support from MPs do not look all that promising for him.

William Kedjanyi – Star Sports

SBC: Current market favourite Boris Johnson is reported as the most popular candidate with Conservative grassroots members. Does this necessarily translate into a leadership victory?  

William Kedjanyi (Politics lead Star Sports Bet):  No it doesn’t… But yes, the members will pick the winner but the MP’s whittle the field down to the last two, and Johnson is not as loved by many MP’s, some who would resign the whip if he became the leader.

Boris has picked up a decent amount of MP endorsements – 26 at the time of writing – but others may coalesce around him and let’s remember that Boris is not unopposed amongst Brexiteers, either.

If he gets to the final two, he’s sure to be favourite, but the early front runner has not won a Leadership contest for a long time and amongst that list includes Johnson himself; Early in the 2005 leadership election, only 2% backed David Cameron to be leader, compared with 32% who supported front runner Ken Clar

Amy Jones – Paddy Power

SBC: A summer contest featuring a cast of freaks, attention seekers and backstabbers… Will the Conservative Leadership Contest outperform Love Island as the nation’s most popular entertainment market?

Amy Jones (Mischief Maker at Paddy Power) – Regrettably we think politics will win the war here, Love Island has a poorer line up then May’s backbenchers from what we’ve seen of it so far!

Since Brexit, there’s been more re-coupling in the politics than in Love Island’s history and  I think if the public wants a value bet the Tory Leadership Race is where it’s at.

We would expect around five times more bets on the next PM – which was already wildly popular before May walked – than on the action from the villa this summer.

That being said, in terms of telly shows, Love Island will take a lot of bets. But I’m not sure anything compares to the chaos, drama, and egos of the Tory party at the minute. If only we could get the political drama narrated by Iain Stirling.


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