Theresa may just manage to hang on to her job
Prime minister could be around for a little longer
At a time when almost no politician is saying anything intelligent or intelligible, it seems a good moment to consider Benjamin Franklin, the great American 18th century thinker and patriot.
As he was signing the US Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776, Franklin reputedly remarked: “We must all hang together ... or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” As they would have done had George III won the war that followed.
It is a thought that members of Britain’s sort-of governing party, the Conservatives, might bear in mind as they contemplate the bleak political outlook as the country totters towards Brexit.
And I think they may all be more conscious of it than some of the more excitable members of the traumatised band who can’t help betting on politics.
After Theresa May’s election cock-up in June, it was around even money that the country would have to vote again in 2017. I haven’t got much to swank about this year but I told you then it wouldn’t happen, and it hasn’t.
I’m willing to go a little further, and say that both the next election and Theresa May’s exit as party leader and prime minister may all be further away than you might think.
There is a word starting to be used in medical circles: amortal. It’s the condition some optimistic scientists think humanity might reach when the major diseases have been conquered and failing body parts (like my brain) can all be replaced. It’s not the same as being immortal because nothing will save us if we’re hit by a ten-ton truck.
But if we stay safe, there will be no reason not to go on for ever. That’s the theory.
In between general elections, it already applies to British prime ministers. No post-war sitting PM has actually been dumped by their own party. Margaret Thatcher came close and had to resign, but she had been in for 11 years and had patently gone bonkers. Otherwise, Churchill stayed on when he was well past it and John Major hardly spent a single comfy day in office, yet lasted seven years. Tony Blair had zero credibility after the 2003 Iraq war, yet limped on until 2007. And so on.
David Cameron committed hara-kiri by holding the Brexit referendum; otherwise he would still be with us. That’s different. But if May refuses to budge, she is going to be damn hard to shift. Her own MPs would have to initiate it, and that would put their pay and perks in immediate jeopardy. And none of them want to hand Britain to Jeremy Corbyn.
And look at the alternatives. The ever-shifting list of runners in the Tory Succession Stakes is like watching a bunch of selling platers line up for the Derby. Jacob Rees-Mogg? The favourite with most firms! He’s a novelty act. It would be like voting for Boaty McBoatface. David Davis? Oh, yeah: promoted to PM after his latest negotiating failure in Brussels. Boris Johnson? The diplomat who’s as subtle as a Donald Trump tweet.
I always look for the stealth candidate in these situations, and the nearest to that is Amber Rudd, who is quietly pottering on as home secretary, just as May did before last year’s vacancy. But Rudd’s own seat of Hastings (majority: 346) is perilously insecure and she seems more like a May clone than a viable alternative.
The one truly gifted politician in the bunch is Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish party. I think she’s ace. But she’s never run anything. She’s not in the Commons and, as she says herself, she’s “a shovel-faced lesbian”. Someone will have to emerge, and it might yet be Davidson if she came south.
Confession: I have had the tiniest nibble on May’s number two, Damian Green, at 106-1 on Betfair. He has computer porn allegations to overcome at the moment. If he can finesse those his odds will tumble. If you also fancy a 100-1 shot, fine. Otherwise forget it.
Look instead at the markets where the possibilities are finite. Coral and Ladbrokes are betting on the year May will be replaced as PM. 2017 is 6-1. Come off it. 2018 is 11-8. Maybe. But who could push her with Brexit imminent? 2019 is 2-1. That’s quite possible after Brexit. But again there have to be serious rivals. 2020 or later is 4-1. That’s just 25 months away. It’s no cert, but it’s value.
There is also a more general market on the year of the next general election. The original favourite 2017 has gone. 2018 and 2019 are vying for favouritism with the full-term, 2022, with all of them available in places at 5-2. A full term for this lot is a big ask at those odds.
But 2020 and 2021, the outsiders at 10-1 each, do have chances. Keep calm. Think long-term. This parliament could yet be more of a marathon than a sprint.
T May to be replaced as PM in 2020 or later
3pts 4-1 Coral, Ladbrokes
Next general election in 2020
1pt 10-1 Coral, Ladbrokes
Next general election in 2021
1pt 10-1 Coral, Ladbrokes
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