It wasn’t the easiest of starts to Boris Johnson’s 2020. Then again, we might say that of the entire nation, too. After a massive majority victory in December 2019 – the largest held by the Conservatives since 1987 – they were able to seize Labour’s heartlands throughout the north of England, and secure another five years of Tory leadership. Johnson spearheaded that movement and was able to frame the election around the ongoing Brexit negotiations. With the Labour party, then headed by Jeremy Corbyn, unable to take as firm a position on the subject, the consensus was that it was almost akin to a second referendum and only one side could offer a clear position. However, 2020 has been an unusual year in terms of politics.
Boris and his government can’t be blamed for it, but this year has changed the political landscape beyond recognition. The clear majority the Conservatives had only last Christmas was based around priorities which have had to go on the backburner. As odds continue to shift, the speculation over who could be the Tory leader, even by next year continues to change more rapidly than it ever has before. Juggling prime minister and Tory leader brings its many unique challenges – so can Boris hold onto both?
A Different Boris
Boris Johnson as mayor of London was a very different Boris Johnson to the one we have now. His characteristic approach to politics, jovial and bombastic has changed somewhat. He appears more measured in his statements, and although still very much sticking to the notion that he will follow through with the policies the Tories won on, for example seeing Brexit through, he has faced tough questions on numerous occasions. Often attacked by both sides of the house, Johnson has fended off the U-turns his government have made over the year as necessary changes of direction, driven by new facts coming to light. According to latest political odds from Online Bookmakers, Boris is 6/4 to be replaced in 2021 and 8/13 to be replaced in 2022 or later, before the end of the five-year term. The odds aren’t strongly favoured either way, although a replacement of Johnson is all the more likely if the U-turns continue, something which can frustrate Tory backbenchers in particular.
Rishi Sunak, current Chancellor of the Exchequer, was a relative unknown in Westminster before his appointment. His mentoring from Sajid David often shines through. Both share a background in finance and banking, and Sunak spent years working in the City with billionaires and hedge fund managers. As a free-spending chancellor, his widespread acclaim has largely come from his economic handling of the 2020′ financial strains. Amongst many Conservative MPs, the diligent and engaged politician wins plaudits for being bold, practical, and speaking openly on policies. The latest odds give Rishi a 21/10 chance, the best odds of any candidate to take over from Boris. Whether Rishi has ambitions to even run is unclear. However, his popularity alone, rare amongst politicians, makes him a front-runner on his own.
Jeremy Hunt ran against Boris in the previous Conservative leadership elections, however, he stands among contemporaries Michael Gove and Dominic Raab as the three chasing Sunak. The main challenge these three will face is separating themselves from the aspects of the Conservative party that receive more criticism. They also all have easily-researched past discrepancies which make their odds slimmer than newcomers like Sunak with squeaky-clean records of performance. Dominic Raab and Michael Gove have both had unsuccessful campaigns for the Conservative leadership, shaping their races around aggressive Brexit stances and being seen as ‘change’ candidates, which left Boris Johnson as a moderate voice in that race. These kinds of positions, statements, and events can follow politicians into future races.
Whether Rishi decides to run or not, it’s highly likely that a successful replacement for Boris will have to present new ideas. Brexit is not the only issue on the table. Time will tell if he can hold the confidence of his party, but a fresh leadership contest is both the last thing Johnson wants. He is fighting enough battles on enough fronts for the time being.
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