Life after Sunak – Tory Leadership Contenders

Life after Sunak – Tory Leadership Contenders

From Pip Moss

The next Tory Leadership contest should be one of the most fiercely fought for some time. Rather than choosing a new Prime Minister, it is highly likely the Tories will select a new leader at the same time as coming to terms with a significant, possibly even landslide, election defeat.

History is not destiny, but past contests suggest a couple of betting tips at the time of writing.

A Retreat to Type

Parties seem to direct inwards after defeats. Perhaps this is simply inevitable: Defeats leave a larger portion of your remaining MPs representing safe seats, and they tend to be more old-school than the party as a whole. Perhaps it is just the emotional response to losing. I think it’s a bit of both.

Tory members are not an entirely alien species, but they are far from representative of the public overall. The biggest divergences are on Net Zero (much more sceptical*) and Rwanda deportations (much higher priority and support). In general, the War on Woke is far more prominent in the minds of members than the public at large.

There’s a reason Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman are favourite and third favourite right now. When preaching to the choir it pays to bring the right hymn-sheet.

A Lower Profile

Traditionally, leadership speculation buzzes around anyone who holds (or has recently held) one of the Great Offices of State. A big job is a chance to build a power base and name recognition with MPs and members alike. In theory. In practice…it works better when running to be the new PM than the new Leader of the Opposition.

In 1997 the Tories elevated William Hague, then Secretary of State for Wales. In 2010 Labour went for the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. In both cases they beat more prominent candidates with more prestigious CVs, and being less associated with the defeated government clearly helped them.

This time around all three frontrunners can claim this. Mordaunt and Badenoch hold modest posts for full Cabinet members, and Braverman very publicly clashed with Sunak during her entire tenure as Home Secretary. James Cleverly, the only other person on single-digit odds, may have a finer line to tread on this.

The Big Names Who Will Not Be Eligible (David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage)

Just to knock this one on the head, bookies continue to price all three of these names in the top 10 candidates. The Tory constitution requires leadership candidates to be Tory MPs, and it is virtually certain none of these will be after the next election.

The returns aren’t staggering, though laying all three on Betfair at the moment would earn you a virtually risk free 7% return in 12 months or less (8% if you add Lord Frost).


I don’t think there are any howlers in this market, apart from anyone backing Cameron at odds in the teens. However, I think Badenoch has become an overly strong favourite. While she is certainly positioned well, leadership contests are often unpredictable and we really have no idea what the Tory Party will look like post-election. Leadership elections have also seen too many frontrunners have their hopes dashed by leaks and press smears rivals have been saving up for years to deploy.

2/1 in such circumstances is very short, particularly given there are at least a few months until the contest takes place. I’ve laid that price, and since I’ve got the money in the market I’ve ‘Rolled over’ onto laying the ineligible bunch too.

The chart above shows the Smarkets market

*(Though I do have sympathy with the view that polling on this is difficult to decipher and public support may be less deep than it appears if policies will visibly cost people money)

Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts or BlueSky at @Quincel.Bsky.Social

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