If volatile, fluid betting markets are your bag, the race to be crowned next Conservative Party leader – and thus prime minister – has been right up there.
Nearly £3 million has been matched on the Betfair Exchange alone, with early favourite Penny Mordaunt – who was as short as 1.65 with the firm at one point – now out of the running altogether.
More than £800,000 has been matched on Liz Truss (1.43), who will now fight it out with Rishi Sunak (3.30) in the battle for Downing Street.
There are several rounds of voting left to go, with Conservative Party members now adding their weight to the ballot. Although Sunak is leading the way with his fellow Tory MPs with 137 votes, it’s believed he is less well-liked by members for a variety of reasons – hence Truss’ status as the warm favourite with the bookmakers despite trailing on 113.
The pair will now embark on a roadshow of campaigning and hustings, with the winner set to be announced on September 5.
But where is the smart money going? Is Truss a shoe-in, or could there be yet another twist in this increasingly tawdry tale?
What Liz Truss Stands For
In many ways, Liz Truss is the complete opposite of what we might consider the archetypal candidate for Conservative leadership.
She was, initially at least, a Remainer during the Brexit referendum, and that puts her at odds with the majority of her party – she did, however, later defect to Leave when it became clear that was where the public’s appetite just about lay.
Truss has also spoken of tax cuts – another concept alien to Tories in this modern era – to help struggling families during what is something of an economic disaster. The move has been written off as mere electioneering by some, but Truss is adamant it’s the right thing to do. “Raising taxes at this moment will choke off economic growth,” she has said, which is a concept that not all economists agree with at a time when the magic money tree’s branches are looking increasingly bare.
Truss is the current foreign secretary, and that role has been particularly busy of late given the conflict in Ukraine, post-Brexit trade negotiations and the need to come up with a deal with Northern Ireland that satisfies all parties.
The 46-year-old has also proven to be very loyal to Boris Johnson in recent months, even hinting that the former PM shouldn’t have resigned – that loyalty will sit well with party members, in stark contrast to Sunak’s deserting of the good ship Boris.
Politics, at all levels, is merely a popularity contest, and right now Truss has forged ahead in the hearts – of not the minds – of Conservative Party members.
What Rishi Sunak Stands For
When Rishi Sunak was handing out money left, right and centre during the pandemic, his popularity soared so high that he was already being groomed as the successor to Boris, for the inevitable day came that Johnson’s corruption and incompetence became too much to bear.
But things have turned a little fishy for ‘dishy Rishi’ since, with his wife’s non-domicile status, some thick-headed staged photoshoots and a seeming unwillingness to cut taxes during the worst fiscal crisis in decades harming his chances of ascending to the top job.
Lauded as something of an economic whizz kid, Sunak has navigated the UK’s path through the pandemic with some success – the economy grew by 7.5% in 2021, which compares favourably to that of the USA (5.6%) and Germany (2.7%).
But his refusal to put more money in the pockets of the public through tax cuts or subsidies at petrol pumps is a divisive stance within his own party, and it is on that petard that he is likely to be hoisted by Truss in their duels on the campaign trail.
Some Conservative Party members consider Sunak to be something of a slippery character after he, by accident or design, brought down Boris courtesy of his near-the-knuckle resignation letter, and loyalists are unlikely to forget that fact when it comes to making their vote.
But, like I say, politics is a game of popularity played by careerists, and Sunak believes he is more likely to defeat Labour than Truss at the next general election. “Crucially, I am the person who is best placed to beat Keir Starmer in the next election, and that’s the question Conservative members are going to have to consider,” he said, boldly.