Boris Johnson’s bad month goes from worse to terrible and Betfair markets are responding. The Prime Minister is now around evens to no longer be Conservative leader by 2024 and the odds about a 2022 exit are down to 3.45 – equivalent to a 29% chance.
Disastrous CBI speech piles on the pressure
The explanation is obvious. Any number of issues are taking their toll. The Owen Paterson sleaze row placed corruption centre-stage. Inflation and imminent tax rises. More terrible headlines and a backbench rebellion over the government’s plans for social care. Then yesterday, hours before that rebellion, a shambolic speech to the CBI in which the PM repeatedly lost his thread and started rambling, inaccurately, about Peppa Pig.
‘Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me’@BorisJohnson appears to lose track of his notes as he delivers a speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) pic.twitter.com/cdCJ2tO6ye
? ITV News Politics (@ITVNewsPolitics) November 22, 2021
Having repeatedly predicted an early Johnson exit, none of this comes as a great surprise but I am wary of talking my own book. Prime Ministers holding large majorities do not generally resign or get forced out mid-term. Tony Blair did resign but it was no surprise, as nobody expected him to run at the next election.
The more relevant precedent would be Margaret Thatcher. When Tory MPs removed her, the party was trailing badly in the polls and two Chancellors had resigned. That isn’t the case today. They are more or less tied with Labour and the Cabinet remain loyal, for now at least. On the flip side of that, though, dumping Thatcher involved turning on a leader whom the party adored. Whereas doubts about Johnson’s credibility were infamous even before he became leader.
Problems highly likely to worsen in 2022
Johnson’s greater problem is that things are likely to get worse. Besides the speech, none of these issues are going away. The tax rises really kick in next April, just before council elections. Covid numbers remain high. Shortages of labour are ongoing, threatening a winter of discontent.
The social care changes are bound to be very unpopular with a key demographic for the Tories, and remain very newsworthy as the legislation goes through the House of Lords. Various legal challenges and inquiries will further expose systemic corruption on Johnson’s watch. There are numerous examples of how the Brexit fallout will worsen throughout 2022.
EU data adequacy is temporary, ends in 2022.
EU Financial derivatives ends in 2022.
Fingerprint and DNA sharing ends in 2022
Ongoing Horizon science ends in 2022
? Irishmonk (@castlvillageman) November 11, 2021
It amounts to an avalanche of bad political news and there is no evidence to suggest Johnson has the skills or character to withstand it. This, I am sure, is dawning rapidly on Tory MPs, donors and media – the triage who will determine his fate.
Perhaps most worrying for them are signs of life in Keir Starmer’s leadership, and widespread consensus that he outshone Johnson in front of the CBI yesterday. When was the last time a Labour leader got a good review from business leaders? Tony Blair, as Labour racked up huge majorities.
At a time of economic anxiety business leaders deserved better than the prime minister’s shambolic speech – they got it instead from Sir Keir Starmer https://t.co/UVTnpXUmTm
? The Times (@thetimes) November 22, 2021
Naturally, some will legitimately point to my lack of neutrality regarding Johnson. I will say two things. First, neutrality in politics is a myth. Those who proclaim it are generally delusional. Second, it isn’t me, or Labour supporters in the media, or Remainers, who are piling on right now. Rather, it is some of his usual cheerleaders.
Are Tory power-brokers moving against Johnson?
Understand how British politics works. There is an extraordinary, incestuous relationship between the Conservative Party and media. Here is not the place but anyone can check the ties through family, school, university, party donors and senior media roles in the BBC and beyond. There is a power nexus, forever hidden from public view.
Then ask why, when Johnson has been making rambling, incoherent speeches for decades, which were either laughed off or ignored, is the reaction to yesterday’s CBI speech on every bulletin? Why are former cheerleaders suddenly aghast at something that was very predictable? Who is the ‘senior Downing Street source’ to whom Kuennsberg refers?
Senior Downing St source says “there is a lot of concern inside the building about the PM….It’s just not working. Cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes otherwise it’ll keep getting worse. If they don’t insist, he just won’t do anything about it.”
? Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) November 22, 2021
Dominic Cummings started this several months ago. In my view, sentiment among Tory power-brokers is swinging decisively his way. In keeping with a party tradition that saw Theresa May, Iain Duncan Smith and of course, Thatcher deposed mid-term; the operation to finish the current leader is ramping up.
Those power-brokers calculate, as do I, that the party will fare better moving forward with a new leader and a rebrand. The two front-runners are Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. Client journalists and donors are duly positioning themselves, as seen in coverage over recent months and at last night’s Winter Ball.
My spy reports dinner with Rishi Sunak just auctioned off for £35k at the Tory Winter Ball…
Karaoke with Liz Truss for £22k…
Cabinet themselves have rushed back to Commons to vote…
? Harry Cole (@MrHarryCole) November 22, 2021
Expect a leadership contest next summer
The question is now about timing. I don’t believe they will dump Johnson during this winter of discontent. The new leader doesn’t need to be damaged by that, or indeed the tax rises and potentially grim local election results. That could prove a major problem for Sunak and reinforces earlier advice to back Truss.
Rather I expect Johnson will be forced out around May/June, prompting a leadership contest over the summer and the winner unveiled at the party conference in September.
Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.