Who’ll be next in the firing line?

Who’ll be next in the firing line?

Where’s the value in the First to Leave?

After a hectic day, which various cabinet ministers might mark down as sub-optimal, it seems a good time to review the next Cabinet Minister to Leave market.

At the time of writing, Chris Huhne was a very clear favourite, best priced at even money with Ladbrokes. That favourite tag is justified although the degree of strength may not be. It’s been a month where he’s hardly been out of the news, from his attacks on his coalition colleagues during the last days of the AV referendum campaign, to his wife’s claims about those penalty points for speeding – and issue which moved on yesterday as he contacted the police to offer his help with their enquiry.

Ken Clarke’s odds also shot in, to 5/1, after his gaffe surrounding sentencing policy on rape, something which it took him most of the day to put right. Even so, the it looks like a single-day media story and certainly not enough to bring him down.

Ladbrokes also price Andrew Lansley at 5/1 but Paddy Power have him out at 12/1. As the third of the trio to be under pressure at the moment, with the opposition his NHS reforms are facing, he could be forgiven for feeling a little relieved for the distraction the other stories have caused.

Of those three, none is facing an immediate crisis. Huhne would be if substantiating evidence for the claims against him is found or put forward but that’s not where we are. I’m therefore sceptical that any offers any value. The key question is how survivable their present difficulties are because the longer they are likely to drag on, the more likely it is that someone else will have a problem in the meantime.

This would be an ideal market to be able to lay as well as back. Ministerial resignations are rare compared with media crises, meaning there tends to be a great deal of fluctuation in prices. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to do so – so the next best option is to grab the decent prices on offer elsewhere when someone gets themselves into non-fatal trouble.

One key factor is how much support each minister has. Huhne’s difficulties are of a nature that go beyond patronage: if something serious turns up, he will have to go. That remains a big ‘if’ though. By contrast, both Clarke and Lansley’s troubles are political – and political problems have political solutions. Clarke would not be a natural fit in a modern Tory cabinet but as it’s not a Tory cabinet, he has a lot more support than he would otherwise. The Lib Dems are likely to be loath to lose their best natural ally in the cabinet. At the opposite end of the scale, Lansley has significant backbench Conservative support against what they see as the most visible example of internal opposition. As the Tories quite simply cannot afford to lose that policy politically, Lansley is unlikely to be sacrificed.

Rather than looking at today’s favourites, the value is more likely to lie on those with longer odds. For example, Pickles, IDS, Hunt, Paterson and Hammond are all 50/1 with Ladbrokes. I have no reason to assume any will be next out (except perhaps a health question mark over Pickles), but equally, there’s no especially strong reason to assume they won’t be. Likewise, Gove and May are both 33/1 and hold posts where it’s possible to ‘do a Clarke’.

The most likely one-off ways out of the cabinet are personal scandal, serious political gaffe, health breakdown, retirement or a resignation after a disagreement. If this current round won’t bring about one of those, then it follows that the chances that it will be someone else when one does are significantly greater than the current odds imply.

David Herdson


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