The Chancellor is 13/8 favourite to be Next Conservative Leader.
He is 15/8 favourite to be Next Prime Minister. And on Betfair, you can get nearly 2/1 and 5/2 about the two propositions.
But the folk wisdom on backing the next Tory leader is that the favourite never wins. That the winner is more about who he isn’t, than who he is. You have to go all the way back to Eden to find a clear case of the long-term favourite succeeding, and that’s despite several changes to the method of election since then.
Yet isn’t Anthony Eden the most appropriateÂ comparison? He had been Churchill’s most trusted lieutenant everÂ since 1940, when Winston appointed him Secretary of State for War, and he then served as Deputy Prime Minister in Churchill’s first Conservative government.
Moreover, this next Tory leader will, in all probability, be the first since MacMillan toÂ inherit the job asÂ favourite to win the next General Election. Unsurprisingly most leaders don’t step down when it looks like they’re going to win! Accordingly there is, unusually, a strong case for continuity – which Osborne undoubtedly represents.
In fact, the most apt (and indeed obvious) comparison is probably from the other side:Â Gordon Brown. Eden & Brown are not a very propitious pair of parallels, but we’re only worried about picking the winner here!
Turning to the mechanics of the election, it seems pretty clear that Osborne already has the MP nominations in the bag. He might even have enough nominations to (in theory) “choose his own opponent” – someone who controls over two-thirds of the votes can do so. Even a financial apocalypse on the scale envisaged by Damian McBride might not be enough to stop him, as it’s arguably even easier to make the case for continuity in an uncertain world.
So that 15/8Â looks pretty massive to me, as a certain runner in a two-horse race. Except, of course for…
George favours Remain. A clearÂ majority of the Cabinet will favour Remain. Probably the majority of the MPs will favour Remain. Tory voters currently leanÂ Leave by aboutÂ 55-45: manageable. But Tory members will break more decisively for Leave. ConservativeHome’s 71-24 survey findingÂ (NB not a poll) is probably at the extreme end, but I would not be surprised to see at least a two-thirds majority in favour of Brexit.
So how can George win amongst this electorate? Firstly, by remembering that not all members care about Brexit above and beyond everything else. Secondly, byÂ campaigning very respectfully for Remain, and letting othersÂ campaign against Leave. And thirdly, and most intriguingly, by maintaining unity through having a foot in both camps.
A Cabinet Minister – via James Kirkup of the Telegraph – explains:
“Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, has no fear of Brexit. It would be no surprise if he emerged as a Leave campaigner.But heâ€™s also a strong supporter of Mr Osborne, even a protÃ©gÃ©, some say. So what if the master very privately gave his apprentice permission and even encouragement to cross the line and put himself at the head of the Leave campaign. Mr Osborne, sometimes described as an octopus with tentacles in every nook and cranny of politics, would pull off the remarkable feat of having a presence in both campaigns in the referendum.
The Osborne-Javid ticket would thus become a symbol of Tory reunification and harmony after the referendum, able to speak for both Remain and Leave supporters…”Â
This certainly has the ring of plausibility. The Business Secretary has already slapped down “Stronger In” for attempting to suggest that he was in favour of Remain:
.Actually @StrongerIn, Business Sec IS clear: currently costs of EU outweigh benefits. Unless we get major reform, nothing's off the table
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) November 20, 2015
Of course, the referendum might actually be won by Leave – but even then I would not see this as fatal for Osborne’s chances: this would probablyÂ have been seen coming via polling and heÂ would accordingly have campaigned cautiously. The case for unity would still be strong; what would be critical would be his proposed approach to exit negotiations.
All-in-all, I would suggest Osborne remains value, and I would recommend backing him for Next PM (better value than next Tory leader) at anything over 6/4 – Betfair is your first point of call. For full disclosure, I am also long on Javid, May, Hunt, Paterson, Halfon and Brady.